Retro or Reboot? – Golden Axe

Last year, when I tried to revitalize a bunch of old series I left by the wayside, there was one concept that I struggled to revitalize. Considering the fact that I haven’t done an article in this series in exactly two years – and that one came after a similar two-year hiatus – it’s safe to say that this has been a long time coming. Of course, two things kept me from moving forward with it. For starters, many of the old concepts I revisited had either had much longer hiatuses or just never became actual series, essentially dying after a single article. Far more damning, however, was my inability to decide on a topic. Obviously, both problems have since evaporated and due to a lack of any other ideas, I’ve decided that it’s finally time to revive another series. Welcome back, “Retro or Reboot?” – you’ve been missed.

As I said, I haven’t done one of these articles since 2017, so it feels reasonable to do a brief refresher on just what Retro or Reboot entails. Basically, I take a video game series that has lied dormant for a fair amount of time – let’s drop the formalities on generations and just put it in the ballpark of “at least a decade” – and come up with two pitches to revitalize the series for modern audiences. The first (better known as the “Retro” pitch) will be substantially more faithful to earlier incarnations, combining the best elements of previous games and streamlining some of the more outdated concepts for modern audiences. The “Reboot” pitch, on the other hand, takes the original concept and universe of the old games, but recontextualizes them into a more modern video game genre. Of course, sometimes I just pick out a single modern game that would be a perfect base for a complete reinvention of the IP in question. It depends on the game, really.

Today’s topic – if you haven’t guessed – is Sega’s classic medieval fantasy beat-‘em-up, Golden Axe. Debuting in arcades in 1989 and made substantially more popular through its near-perfect conversion to the Genesis, the Golden Axe series technically enjoyed three follow-ups in the same vein as the original, as well as a few spinoffs that tackled other genres. Of course, no other game in the series could come close to the renown of the original, which is still considered a bona fide classic even by today’s standards, receiving several ports and appearing in several compilations of old Sega titles. In fact, I would be shocked if it didn’t manage to find its way onto Sega’s upcoming Genesis Mini retro console. All the same, even if the names Ax Battler, Tyris Flame and Gilius Thunderhead have been lost to most of us, the iconic looks of “the barbarian”, “the amazon” and “the dwarf” are unforgettable to scores of gamers who cut their teeth in Sega’s halcyon days.

Retro

Before we begin, it’s time to address the elephant in the room. Now might not be the best time to pitch a fourth Golden Axe game. After all, Sega has recently given DotEmu and Lizardcube – the companies behind the recent remake/enhanced port of Wonder Boy: The Dragon’s Trap – the greenlight to create a fourth entry in the Streets of Rage series, Sega’s other prominent contribution to the beat-‘em-up genre. Still, both games were substantially different from one another, in terms of theming and gameplay. One must remember that Golden Axe originated in the arcades, while the entire Streets of Rage trilogy was built from the ground up for consoles, leading to completely different experiences. Besides, if Sega can license out a third Shenmue while still working on Yakuza games internally, there’s probably room for both IPs to coexist simultaneously.

With that out of the way, let’s look at the four major releases in the series. I think everyone’s familiar with the original arcade game – likely through the Genesis version or some other console port – so I’ll just skip over that. After that, the franchise itself took a forked path, though as I said before, no other game in the franchise managed the success and recognition of the original. Golden Axe II for the Genesis barely managed to drop first – barely squeaking out in December 1991 in Japan, with Western releases in 1992 – but the game itself was nothing special: it was essentially a level pack sequel to the first game, with the original cast of playable characters returning (with slightly tweaked graphics) for a brand-new adventure.

Meanwhile, Sega prepared for another sequel to Golden Axe for release in 1992, one developed on their System 32 arcade hardware, the same tech that gave life to Sega’s Spider-Man arcade game and other obscure sequels in popular Sega franchises like Outrunners and SegaSonic the Hedgehog, among others. Titled Golden Axe: The Revenge of Death Adder, it’s arguably the pinnacle of the entire series. Featuring a brand-new cast of characters: Stern, a barbarian who is essentially Ax Battler; Dora, a female centaur wielding a pugil stick; the pitchfork-wielding imp known as Little Trix and Goah, a giant who carries Gilius in a pouch and wields his axe. Best of all, four characters means four-player cooperative action. It’s a shame that the game never received any home ports, but it’s definitely a fun game and worth trying if you ever have the chance.

One year later, Sega released one final beat-‘em-up in the Golden Axe series. Simply titled Golden Axe III, it’s easily the most obscure of the console trilogy. The game only received physical releases in Japan and Europe for the Mega Drive. In North America, it was exclusive to the Sega Channel service, though it would appear years later in various compilations and was also released on the Wii’s Virtual Console. Like Revenge of Death Adder, III contains a cast of four brand-new characters, with Gilius Thunderhead acting as a non-playable mentor to the new characters. Kain Grinder and Sahra Burn are essentially homages to Ax Battler and Tyris Flame, respectively. Proud Cragger is a descendant of giants who fights with his bare hands and Chronos “Evil” Lait is a humanoid panther created by the black magic of the new game’s main antagonist, who slashes with his claws. The game also adds several new features, including teamwork attacks and various mobility options like double-jumps and wall jumps, and junction points that allow players to choose their path, allowing for alternate stages. Golden Axe III was certainly the most ambitious of the Genesis games, but contemporary critics felt that the game didn’t offer enough to differentiate it from the previous games and praised Sega’s decision to make it a Sega Channel exclusive in America.

Now ideally, any new retro-themed Golden Axe would pay heavy homage to Revenge of Death Adder for two major reasons. For starters, it never received any home ports and emulating System 32 arcade games is still something of a mixed bag to this day, so the only way to properly experience it would be through the original arcade cabinet – thank you, Galloping Ghost! More importantly, it’s easily the best game in the series. Having said that, it would be smart to implement some of the mechanics found in the third game as well, specifically the ability to perform double-team attacks. While this mechanic isn’t particularly special by modern standards, it would be extremely interesting within the context of a new Golden Axe. One aspect that both the third Genesis game and Revenge of Death Adder share that I would love to see in a new entry would be branching paths, a rarity in the beat-‘em-up genre.

Likewise, multiplayer is a must – but a new Golden Axe game should put equal emphasis on delivering on both offline and online co-operative play. In fact, the main reason I bring up Revenge of Death Adder is that I’d love to see any future Golden Axe beat-‘em-up-style games incorporate four-player multiplayer. On that note, I also wouldn’t be opposed to the “Duel Mode” found in the Genesis games. These essentially allowed players to duke it out in a one-on-one fight against either another player or a gauntlet of computer-controlled opponents, using the standard Golden Axe engine. In fact, imagine the possibilities of a Duel Mode with four players: there could even be team battles or co-operative runs for the single-player gauntlet.

As usual, I’m not exactly picky when it comes to the game’s aesthetic. Granted, in ideal circumstances, we’d see traditional sprites on par with the Sega Saturn or even the System 32 itself – but the majority of the gaming public have long since grown beyond those retro aesthetics and my gut tells me that Sega would view the revival of a franchise like Golden Axe as a potential moonshot. With that in mind, chances are they would either go for the hand-drawn look (like the aforementioned Streets of Rage 4) or the all-too-common “2.5D” style – which didn’t exactly pan out well in the Sega Ages release of Golden Axe back on the PS2. Granted, judging the latter art style based on a game that came out nearly 15 years ago isn’t exactly fair, but neither is life. If you don’t think people will dig that sucker up if Sega announces a 2.5D Golden Axe, I don’t know what to tell you.

Finally, we come to what could arguably be simultaneously considered the most and least important decision regarding a brand-new Golden Axe: the branding. Specifically, what would we call this new Golden Axe game? I’d honestly go out of my way to avoid the “same name” title scheme – simply calling this new game “Golden Axe” could lead to some series trouble, given Sega’s history. Likewise, it wouldn’t technically be “Golden Axe IV” – in fact, Golden Axe III was technically the fourth game in the series. Regardless, given the relative obscurity of the two numbered sequels (and that’s far better than the poor reputation they have among enthusiasts), it would probably be for the best if Sega just used a subtitle. That way, they’ll sidestep the strange way previous games were numbered and as a bonus, avoid drawing attention to just how old the series is.

Reboot

The first major concern with developing a modernized Golden Axe revival is that the traditional genre for the series – the humble beat-‘em-up – would need to be abandoned. Aside from retro revivals (like Arc System Works’ recent dives into Technos Japan’s classic IP library and the upcoming Streets of Rage 4) and low-budget titles that clearly lean on nostalgia (like the Scott Pilgrim game, Phantom Breaker: Battle Grounds and Fight‘N Rage), the beat-‘em-up genre is essentially no more. While a clear successor has taken up the reins and shows that the spirit of the genre still lives on, the original playstyle itself is simply no longer relevant in the grand scheme of the gaming medium.

Fortunately, Golden Axe has had a few spinoffs in the past that explored different genres. For starters, there was Golden Axe Warrior, which was essentially the Sega Master System’s answer to The Legend of Zelda. After that came Ax Battler: A Legend of Golden Axe on the Game Gear. While there was no indication that this game was linked to the previous game, its gameplay greatly resembled Zelda II: The Adventure of Link, right down to incorporating side-scrolling segments as random encounters on the overworld. There was also Golden Axe: The Duel, a one-on-one fighting game that details the conflict between a new generation of warriors over the titular weapon. The game was originally released in arcades, but also received a home port on the Sega Saturn. And while none of these games were particularly well-received when compared to the mainline games, they do illustrate the IP’s flexibility when it comes to gameplay.

Of course, there is one major hurdle that Sega would have to contend with if they decide to reinvigorate the Golden Axe brand with one of their premier marquee titles: they already tried doing that before… and things didn’t turn out well. Yep, it’s time to discuss the elephant in the room, 2008’s Golden Axe: Beast Rider, an edgy reboot brought to the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 by Sega Studios San Francisco (formerly known as Secret Level before they were purchased by Sega outright) and was one of the games that ended up sealing their fate as a studio. I’m not going to lie to you: I’ve never actually played Beast Rider – and likely never will, unless I can get it for a laughably low price – but the game’s reputation speaks for itself. While scouring the internet for some gameplay footage, it just appears to be an extremely mediocre hack-and-slash action game that probably would’ve been looked upon kindlier (and probably reviewed slightly better) if it weren’t associated with the Golden Axe name. Fortunately, it’s been over a decade since that game released, giving fans of the series more than enough time to forget Beast Rider, and Sega has really improved the quality on a lot of their output in recent years – so long as Sonic the Hedgehog isn’t the title character – so there could be a good chance that revisiting Golden Axe now could give the series a much needed jump-start back to prominence.

With the series’ past covered, it’s time to discuss the best possible genre for a revival. While the beat-‘em-ups of old have clearly evolved into the modern “character action game” sub-genre, the Golden Axe of yore was cut from a different cloth than the clear ancestors of games like Devil May Cry, Bayonetta, God of War and the like. The gameplay in the original game was a bit slower and more deliberate than many of its contemporaries, almost emulating the heft of using a melee weapon compared to more agile hand-to-hand combat. In other words, if Sega just decided to hire Platinum Games to plug Golden Axe characters into the Bayonetta engine, the resulting game would feel just as wrong as Beast Rider did. Now don’t get me wrong, I loved the first two Bayonetta games, but if Sega decides to reboot Golden Axe again, I want to be left with a game that feels like a proper successor to what came before.

Having said that, I still think that a modern action game would probably be the best way to approach a modern take on Golden Axe – it just wouldn’t be nearly as stylish as Bayonetta and the like. Instead, I’d pitch something with a more grounded combat system, something almost akin to Bloodborne or Sekiro but with less of an emphasis on memorization. Ideally, this new Golden Axe would end up resembling a modern take on Onimusha: slower combat that would force players to read their enemies’ movements and react accordingly instead of just performing smoking sexy styled combos on hundreds of disposable mooks. Back in the original Golden Axe, while individual enemies weren’t necessarily threatening on their own, they could become incredibly imposing in numbers due to the slower combat. Any new take on the series should be able to recreate the tense feeling I had when I was surrounded by three Skeletons while playing the game solo. That’s my most distinct memory of Golden Axe: how later stages would leave me feeling as each step I took could lead me into an onslaught I wouldn’t be able to overcome.

Of course, there are some other unique elements from the earlier games that might be a bit more difficult to incorporate into the action genre. One that specifically comes to mind would be the rideable mounts. While most people are familiar with the dragons and “Chicken Leg” from the first game, the later games added their own monsters to the fray. While the concept may be a little difficult to incorporate into a modern action game, it’s undeniable that they were a core element of the classic games. Perhaps the best way to approach them would be to just not fix what isn’t broken: essentially leave the mechanic itself in the game unaltered from the old days, certain enemies can be found riding them, they can be knocked off and the player can take the powerful monster for their own (and vice versa). Handling it like that would add a risk/reward mechanic to the game, making it more in line with Souls-style games – albeit on a smaller scale.

Meanwhile, Golden Axe’s signature magic mechanic – casting spells at varying strengths based on how many magic pots (or books, in some games) the player has collected at any given moment – would be easy enough to implement into a modern action game. The real question is whether or not it would need to be tweaked: as I recall, the original game forced players to use all of their available magic at one time, but a more modern take would ideally allow players to use only as much magic as they need, effectively using a small attack when overwhelmed by a group of standard enemies, while saving what they can for the far more threatening boss fights. That would allow for better strategy, but it almost seems blasphemous given how the magic attacks in the old games were balanced. Likewise, I’d tweak the thieves who drop the magic pots in the first place. While they would generally only rob the characters of their remaining magic between stages (in what I can only describe as a bonus stage) in the earlier games, a more modern take should have them become substantially more aggressive in standard play instead, adding another risk/reward mechanic by forcing players to choose to chase them down to stockpile magic – or regain any pots that might have been stolen from them – or play more carefully, as the thieves could hypothetically appear at any time, even during a boss fight.

Multiplayer is also a concern: it almost feels blasphemous to pitch a Golden Axe game without even considering cooperative play. The problem is that modern action games generally work best as a single-player affair: even the maligned Beast Rider managed to get that much right. Frame rate is generally a concern when it comes to the genre and while there have been many examples of multiplayer within the genre, a significant portion of them have been relegated to separate bonus modes, effectively acting as minigames rather than a variation on the standard campaign. With that in mind, I’d have to insist on all-or-nothing when it comes to multiplayer. We should either be allowed to play through the entire single-player mode with friends – ideally with both online and offline options – with the game’s difficulty receiving a proper rebalance to account for the additional player, or the game should just be a purely solo affair.

Enough about gameplay, what about the game’s aesthetic? Personally, I’d like to see a graphical style that evoked the classic box arts from the American home releases of the Genesis cover art, essentially aping the style of Boris Vallejo and Julie Bell, the two artists responsible for much of the artwork I’m referencing. One of Beast Rider’s cardinal sins was just how drab and generic everything looked in-game. Attempting a modernized take on the classic look is a mistake. If anything, Sega should lean into the cheese. As for the music and sound design, I’m afraid that the only thing that would match with this art style would be a suitably epic soundtrack with a full orchestral flourish. Hopefully the composers would be able to sneak in some references to the older games’ soundtracks in there, but chances are it’ll end up being one generic composition after another, similar to Castlevania: Lords of Shadow or most modern gaming soundtracks. I guess sacrifices have to be made to keep everything consistent.

That just leaves one question regarding a potential Golden Axe reboot: who should develop it? Now ideally, Sega should be able to handle development internally, but given the fact that the only studio I can recognize within the company that would have anything involving the skill to develop something like this is the aptly-named “Ryu Ga Gotoku Studio”, and I’m pretty sure they’re busy with more pressing projects. Of course, most people would recommend that Sega reignite their partnership with PlatinumGames, but I’ve got my doubts on that for a few reasons. For starters, PG has recently declared their intention to start self-publishing their own games and the sheer amount of other partners they’ve been working since their exclusivity agreement with Sega ended – Activision, Nintendo, Square Enix – tells me that they likely would want to keep their options open. My primary concern is that a lot of Platinum’s action games have stuck to a specific formula: each evoking the kind of “stylish action” gameplay I’d like to avoid in a proper Golden Axe reboot, regardless of how hilarious the mental image of Gilius Thunderhead doing backflips and spin dashing into enemies with his axe may be. The truth is, I can’t really think of a developer that I’d specifically want to work on this game. That’s not to say that there isn’t an ideal choice out there, just none that I’d can either name from the top of my head or seem remotely possible – like wholly-owned developers from other publishers.

On the plus side, if Sega wants to go with a same-name reboot for the series, this would probably be the best way to handle it. After all, while the stink of Beast Rider has been rinsed away from the franchise’s reputation, if Sega intends to go big with any type of revival, they might as well go all in. All but the most dedicated fans’ knowledge of Golden Axe begins and ends with the 1989 classic, so they essentially have a blank slate to work with here. Sure, references and other nods to the other games in the series could easily be woven into this reboot, but a retelling of the original adventure of Ax Battler, Tyris Flame and Gilius Thunderhead’s journey to wrest the titular artifact from the diabolical hands of Death Adder seems like the safest bet when it comes to attracting an audience.

I wish I could promise there won’t be another long hiatus between now and the next time I write another “Retro or Reboot?” article, but let’s be honest: when it comes to series of articles, I have a tendency to think up new concepts way more easily than I revisit old ones. Of course, with all of the old ones I’ve already come up with, can you really blame me? I just hope I can manage to squeeze out another one of these in less than 2 years next time. Of course, by that logic, chances are you can expect the next one by the end of April 2021. But here’s hoping it doesn’t come to that.

Advertisements

Turn Based #11: A Classic Case of Solve for X

Professor Icepick: Hello everyone and welcome back to Turn Based. I’m Professor Icepick and we’ve been planning this topic for almost half a year now.
Back in November, I wrote up a piece on a potential ninth mainline game in the MegaMan X sub-series, detailing exactly how viable the concept was and potential avenues for adapting the gameplay for modern audiences. However, in the process of writing this, I unintentionally offended my colleague, Dariwan. Surprisingly, he wasn’t offended by my clever nickname for MegaMan X himself — “Blue Bummer” will never cease to amuse me — but rather, the sigh of relief I felt when MM11’s take on enhanced weaponry was sufficiently different from how the X games handled it, as that was one of the many trademarks that differentiated it from the Classic games of old.

system_powergear

Outstanding move.

Regardless, Dari and I butted heads on the topic for quite some time and as such, we decided to take the opportunity to do a Turn Based article, one-on-one. To make matters more interesting, this may be the first Turn Based to end with a decisive winner: my usual collaborator on this series, SNES Master KI will be joining us as a judge, to give real-time reactions to how well Dari and I articulate our points. With all that in mind, I feel we should finally get started. As Dari was the one who felt so strongly about this topic in the first place, I’m going to let him start the arguments.

Dariwan: For your information, Blue Bummer DID actually offend me; but there were other things that offended me more. Anyway, I feel like X doesn’t really need to do much at all to “adapt” to modern audiences. I feel like the system is pretty ageless and they can pretty much use the same stuff from the classic X games as a base then slowly try to add a few quality of life things from the later games while avoiding some of the pitfalls (haha) that the later games had. The weapons in X had their own uses, just like Megaman 11 had, and I feel like MM11 actually succeeded in taking something from X that succeeded in the past, even if Classic did it first, they didn’t do it as well or as effectively as X did IMO.

Icepick: My main argument is that simply after Classic led into X, each new sub-franchise managed to depart significantly from the games that came before it. Legends dabbled with action-RPG mechanics in the early days of 3D gaming, Battle Network gave us a unique take on more traditional RPGs, which was further tweaked in Star Force. Even the other traditional platformer sub-series deviated from one another more than Classic and X. The Zero games adopted various new mechanics like leveling up techniques, a rating system that rewarded players for doing well and the Cyber-Elf system which would evolve from a mere collectible hunt into something far more customized. Meanwhile, ZX toyed with the idea of turning into a full-on “Megavania” at times.

357430-mega-man-star-force-leo-nintendo-ds-screenshot-powerful-enemies

Exactly as it was in 1987.

I understand that back when the original MegaMan X launched in 1993, Capcom took to a more traditional approach, simply streamlining everything the same way various other games that had originated on the NES did when stepping into 16-bits. However, at this point in time, if Capcom wants both the Classic and X franchises to coexist simultaneously, they’ll have to do their best to make sure that both of those iterations of MegaMan feel different enough from one another, while staying true to their respective roots. Remember, part of MegaMan’s previous decline stemmed from an oversaturation of the market and that had the added benefit of various MegaMan games existing in totally different genres.

SNES Master KI: While it’s definitely true that the X series diverges less from the Classic series than any of the other MegaMan series, the fact that both series managed to get fanbases that strongly prefer one to the other implies that there were already enough differences. Wall climbing, dashing, major permanent upgrades, and an emphasis on finding secrets in levels are all things that distinguish the X series as its own thing.

There’s another factor at play, even if it wouldn’t be in a just reality. The most recent MegaMan game to be bashed for being too similar, MegaMan 10, that happened because of a cosmetic issue. People were angry that it used the same 8-bit aesthetic as MegaMan 9, even though the level design evolved quite a bit. Even if they play similarly, I think the cosmetic and tonal difference in the X and Classic series would keep them distinct in the eyes of the gaming public. We’re also far removed from the days when we could get both a Classic and X game released in the same year, with how much longer games take to make these days. So I’m not convinced there’s a real threat to the franchise as a whole if both series remain similar, I’ll need more arguments in that area.

Icepick: The similarities between Classic and X as they currently exist aren’t an issue. Rather, it’s the possibility that they could potentially converge down the line. When I said that it was good that MegaMan 11’s Power Gear mechanic differentiated itself from X’s ability to charge special weapons, I meant it was good because the MM11 development team was able to find a way to incorporate a mechanic that was, on surface level, identical to one of MMX’s trademarks, but they were able to maintain the difference between the two sub-series.

The issue is not that the X games need to be changed significantly further from the common template they share with the Classic games. Rather, they have to be careful when it comes to attempting to incorporate similar mechanics that are unique to either variant, due to the fact that unlike later spinoffs, Classic and X are definitely more similar to one another than any other two sub-franchises within the MegaMan brand.

Dari: I personally hated Megaman 9 AND 10 for being 8-bit since everything indie and hipster at the time were going 8-bit and that was such the cool thing but I digress. I feel like X is leaps and bounds over Classic in more ways than one. There is way more use with just the techniques they added in X. Wall jumping gives way to more puzzles than just the “yoku” blocks of Classic. The use of later weapons to get access to other secrets was also used well in X more than the Classic series. I feel like the X series could totally hold its own without any sort of competition from Classic, with Classic just barely catching up with Megaman 11 anyway. I feel like Classic can probably even benefit from having some kind of incorporation and/or fusion of sorts in/from X to help both series in general. Also I feel like Classic and X being the same Megaman would help the story as well and do more for crossovers that Capcom seems to love to do anyway easier.

I praised Megaman 11 for doing something different. I liked what it did with the robot masters, even if I felt like the stages were too long and you never felt like you were done until you finally beat the boss. The difficulty and challenge were still there. and I feel like that’s where Classic Megaman shines. X is more about strategic fighting and finding things, rather than using a dog that may not find what you want because it doesn’t feel like it. (Looking at you, Rush Search from Megaman 7!) I still believe that fusing the 2 Megamen would be fine, but it’d be a fine line to do it right.

RushSearch

If this was in any X game, it would make finding the secrets too easy, but it’d be too annoying and stupid, like it was in the game it originated in.

KI: While I don’t think the Classic and X series are or were on a dangerous collision path, I don’t think combining them is the right decision either. There clearly are people who prefer the Classic style of gameplay, as similar as the X formula is to it. And even if I like the X series more, I’m not going to say those people should never get another game in their style. I’d love a MegaMan Generations game with both Classic and X playable, but not as a permanent thing. So Dari, I’m going to have to ask how your idea of combining them could work without alienating people who prefer the Classic series.

Dari: I feel like they could do kind of the same thing they do between Megaman Battle Network and Star Force or even Devil May Cry and have Classic stages and X stages, like the modern X games are stylized. I think the idea of Megaman Generations would be interesting, but I think that’d stifle the X formula a bit more, since Classic is just getting into the modern age and there’s just some things that Classic can’t do yet that X can. Classic is a bit more…rigid in his movements and his attacks are a bit 2-D (haha) So I feel like Classic may have to evolve a little more before he can take on his X persona. Maybe that’s what ZX was trying to teach us. That Classic needs to evolve more to fit X if he’s ever to become him. I didn’t think something as simple as Megaman could turn so philosophical.

mega-man-fully-charged-post-1

Maybe this fusion wasn’t a good idea after all?

Icepick: Wow, there’s a lot to unpack there. For starters, it’s been confirmed on several different occasions that the original MegaMan and X are totally different characters: X is essentially like Rock’s little brother. And even if the whole “Rock gets modified into X” fan theory were canon — and it’s been disproved several times — the fact that X retains absolutely none of his predecessor’s memories would make them distinct characters anyway. So that’s one major issue with your argument.

In fact, if anything, X’s more flexible move set is the product of just how much more advanced he is, compared to his older brother. X was built as a super advanced Android, while Rock was essentially the second “Robot Master” in existence, who was modified in order to change his function from his creator’s lab assistant into a super fighting robot, set on keeping the world safe.

I will, however, thank you for proving my point about the line blurring between Classic MegaMan and X. In order to keep both characters distinct from one another, it is crucial that both series offer demonstrably different gameplay to prevent similar mix-ups in the future.

KI: Well, I don’t think the misconception that Classic becomes X can be blamed on any line blurring, since it was the dominant assumption as soon as the character X was introduced. He shares most of his name with Classic and has a similar appearance aside from extra armor, it was really inevitable that people would think X was an upgraded Classic. That aside, I’m not convinced by the idea of making it like Devil May Cry’s multi-character formula. X and Classic don’t coexist, so you’d have to keep snapping the story between time periods to have levels switch between them, which is much more complicated than simply having Nero clear out an area instead of Dante. I’m leaning towards essentially a split decision at this point (X and Classic aren’t in danger of converging, but them converging would be a bad idea if it actually did happen), so I’m going to ask you to both make an argument for your position that I disagree with, no responding to each other this time. Icepick, you explain how the Classic and X series are in danger of converging, and Dari, you give an argument for why they should converge. For the sake of keeping who gets to go first even, Icepick can go first since he’s done it less so far.

Icepick: I don’t believe that the two series are in danger of converging per se, but rather that releasing games that are too similar in each respective series may very well end up cutting into the demand for both of them. As I said before, the oversaturation of the MegaMan franchise in general is a lot of what led to its long hiatus… or at the very least, the shift towards a single brand identity from the release of MegaMan 9 in 2008 until support for the entire franchise evaporated completely for the better part of a decade.

I believe that Classic and X can co-exist fairly easily, but Capcom needs to keep both brands distinguishable from one another in order to make that work. Achieving that goal will be a bit more difficult compared to trying to keep either Classic or X around with any other sub-franchise due to the similarities the first two sub-series shared in the first place. And if we end up with what the market perceives as a glut of too many games that are far too similar to one another with far too little time between releases, it could be disastrous for the MegaMan series in general. In other words, if Capcom decides to keep Classic and X around as the main (if not only) representatives of the brand overall, they’ll need to keep the differences between the two as visible as they currently are, but if they decide to experiment with their existing formulas in a way that remains faithful to what made Classic and X different from one another in the first place, it could only serve to improve the ability for both franchises to coexist in good health.

Dari: In Japan, I think fusing Megaman and X would be easy. Release a manga/comic that explains how Megaman Classic grew up or evolved into X or how Classic entered stasis and got worked into X. release the game and be done with it. In the West though, I feel l like it’ll be more of a challenge. I guess they could possibly have some kind of connecting game that ends up with Classic becoming X or vice versa, as no one said X couldn’t ‘devolve’ into classic. Hell, Capcom could capitalize on that and make like Chibi X as Classic mini games or a little cartoon or something like Sega did with the Sonic cartoons on YouTube.

Actually I like that idea better. Have Dr. Wily finally appear in the X series, have him “devolve” Mega Man X into Classic version and have him do X stages as Classic. I like the way that works. then at the end have him do Classic stages as X or do that as a challenge stage or something like that. Either way the more I think about it the harder it is to make this work in the West. Maybe Megafusing should stay in Japan only, since only Japan can make things like this work.

proxy

So Wily doesn’t like Zero, gives him a reason to be in Megaman X! To destroy his failed creation!

KI: For Icepick’s argument, I kind of feel like we’ve fallen into the typical “depending on what your starting point/interpretation of the argument” draw status we always seem to end up in on Turn Based. I don’t think there’s ever been any real danger of the Classic and X series becoming indistinguishable and there are things from the X series I think need to be implemented into Classic 20+ years ago (why in God’s name do we still have to buy weapon capsules automatically going to the lowest weapon!?). So it’s hard to say to what extent I agree/disagree with you.

For Dari, I really don’t think there’s any way to merge the franchises that would be respectful to the tone of both. As has been established, X isn’t Classic, and Wily emerging to temporarily turn X into Classic really doesn’t fit with the tone of the X games at all. For a one off or once in a while MegaMan Generations game that has the tone of the Classic series something with time travel could work, but I don’t think a permanent merger is a good idea.

With that said, I think we should have one last statement from Dari and Icepick about why their opponent’s idea wouldn’t work (but keep it civil). I think this should be the final shot, so let’s do this. Dari, you can go first to ensure a smooth alternating pattern.

Dari: I feel like X and Classic are too different, too different to ever be friends. (Bad reference, I know) because of that I don’t think they have any reason that converging will be a problem. We’ll have to wait for X9 to rear its head to see what Capcom’s got in their heads to see how X will evolve in his future, but Classic always had the slow and steady approach to everything and MM11 just proved that ever so much more. They even tried something that could have backfired but thankfully didn’t to even the tide up for saying there was such a long hiatus from the series, and also not going 8-bit again (THANK GOD). I think the Shop by itself and the few cosmetic changes Classic got in 11 is enough to pretty much cement that it’s not gonna be indistinguishable from X and they won’t say that X and Classic are the same ever, even in crazy bad Megafan circles. At least no one says Zero is a Megaman anymore.

Icepick: It’s simple. If the gameplay in future Classic and X games becomes identical, then there’s no reason to keep both series active. And given the fact that both of those series are generally the most popular MegaMan brands, choosing one over the other would lead to significant damage to the brand’s sustainability in the long run. The West tends to favor the more grimdark (by comparison) MegaMan X, while Japan likes the cutesier Classic Rockman formula more.

Screen Shot 2018-04-20 at 11.09.21 AM

I’d also want to see ZX and Legends get some love once the franchise is reconstructed.

Add that to the fact that my argument is that Capcom should just, bare minimum, stay the course with both series, and it’s clear that keeping Classic and X separate would only benefit them in the long run, giving them the ability to better cater to both markets equally well.

KI: Well, I think we’ve concluded another Turn Based, which managed to converge into multiple arguments and evade the promised decisive winner. If I had to pick a side, I’d go with stay the course, after the dark days of the MegaMan drought all I really want is a steady stream of MegaMan platformers, and MegaMan 11 was a great start to that. Regardless of your side, let’s just be thankful that we’re arguing about the direction of the series instead of whether it is dead forever, as we would be just a couple years ago. What do you think, do you want the Classic and X series to remain distinct from each other, become more similar, or even become the same series? Let us know in the comments, and stay tuned for more episodes of Turn Based!

Top 10 Games I Want Ported FROM PC IV: High Noon at Mega Mountain

It’s funny. Despite the fact that this series of listicles started off as an April Fools’ day gag and in the end, simply seeks to undermine any and all advantages my platform of choice has above all others, I almost look forward to them more than the lists of yore where I was portbegging from a much more selfish perspective. Maybe with all the indie games and whatnot making their way to consoles with parity to PC, I just happen to find it a bit more fun to discover some hidden gems and give them a miniscule taste of the spotlight.

It’s been a pretty mixed bag in terms of PC news this year. On the one hand, the Epic Games Store emerged last December, bringing with it some scummy business practices and free games every two weeks – at the cost of your personal data. No game is safe from Tim Sweeney’s onslaught of buying up the (purportedly “timed”) exclusivity rights to any Western game, big or small. At the moment, I feel a twinge of fear any time a game is simply announced for “PC”: chances are Sweeney could wrap his greedy tentacles around it. I pray he never realizes that Japanese games are generally my thing. I vow never to spend a single cent on the Epic Games Store, but I will continue to steal their free games and will likely only buy any of their exclusive games once the exclusivity period expires – and then, likely at a significant discount. Still, the risk of upcoming titles like the recently-announced “Shantae 5” becoming exclusive to an anti-consumer store like EGS looms at every corner.

But on the other hand, quite a few major titles have been announced (and released) on PC. My crown jewel came first: Catherine Classic – based on the original PS360 release of Catherine – hit PC on Steam, meaning that Atlus has finally fallen, thanks to the efforts of our friends over at Sega Europe. Better still, they’ve implied that we may see more from Atlus’s library hit PC in the future. On top of that, Yakuza Kiwami finally launched on Steam sans Denuvo and Sega even seems to be removing the DRM from older titles as well: Yakuza 0 already had it removed and Sonic Mania has it removed in a beta patch currently. Hopefully, Puyo Puyo Tetris will see it removed as well. Square Enix announced that Million Arthur: Arcana Blood – a game I only knew about due to the presence of Iori Yagami from The King of Fighters as a guest character – will be coming to Steam sometime this Summer. Speaking of SNK, they had some significant announcements on PC. Metal Slug XX came out on Steam at the end of January. SNK Heroines: Tag Team Frenzy released the following month, as I predicted. And the new Samurai Shodown game was finally confirmed on PC in March. Although it’ll release after the initial June release of the PS4 and Xbox One versions… and possibly after the Switch version, which is scheduled for “late 2019”. Either way, not a bad haul.

Although, I think there may have been a price for Catherine (and Atlus) coming to PC, because for once, quite a few games that were previously PC exclusives were announced on consoles this year. It got to the point where I was almost worried that the console announcements would outright dwarf the PC ports. For starters, Screenwave Media and FreakZone Games announced that Angry Video Game Nerd I & II Deluxe – consisting of a remastered version of the first game and more importantly, the previously PC-exclusive second game – would be coming to “consoles” worldwide (so far it’s only been confirmed for Switch), while also implying (but not outright confirming) that this new compilation title would also be hitting PC. I decided not to consider putting it on the list because the game’s previous publisher, ScrewAttack Games, totally shot down any chance of AVGN II hitting any sort of consoles. From there, both Evoland titles were compiled into Evoland: Legendary Edition and released on the Switch, Xbox One and the PS4 this past February. On top of that, JoyMasher announced that both Oniken: Unstoppable Edition and Odallus: The Dark Call were being ported to all three modern consoles by Digerati, a publisher that focuses exclusively on indie games. And finally, while doing a last-minute check for this list, I discovered that one game I originally intended to put on this list – RetroRevolution’s METAGAL – was actually released last week on… well, just about everything (even the Vita). Little did I realize that the game was announced for the Switch back in January, while its sequel (prequel?) Metaloid: Origin was announced for consoles back in February. Likewise, I originally intended for Bot Vice to be on this list, but it was announced for Switch awhile ago. But DYA Games – the game’s developer – had one more surprise for me: last week at PAX East, Super Star Path was also announced for the Switch.

There is another announcement that I’d like to discuss, even if it may seem like it’s unrelated to the topic at hand. Konami recently revealed three compilations set for release on all 4 modern platforms, including PC. Konami Anniversary Collection: Arcade Classics is due out later this month and has had all eight of the games included announced. What’s even more interesting is that the other two collections – Castlevania Anniversary Collection and Contra Anniversary Collection – are both set to release sometime this Summer and only announced four out of the eight games on both collections. If it seems pointless for me to bring this up, then you’re clearly not remembering that I requested games from both series in previous PC port wishlists. I’ve got a gut feeling that we might see Castlevania: The Adventure ReBirth and Contra ReBirth surface in these compilations, but I wouldn’t be disappointed if Hard Corps: Uprising made it into the Contra collection as well. We’ll just have to wait and see whenever Konami decides to reveal the full line-up for both collections.

The weird part about doing these articles is that many times, just when I think I’m done, a new announcement crops up. Whatever infernal energies allow my wishes to come to fruition are unpredictable at best. Why, two days before this article went live, SNK made one more announcement at PAX East: Samurai Shodown NeoGeo Collection, set to release on all 4 platforms this Fall. Now you’re probably wondering why I’m bringing this up. It’s simple. Samurai Shodown II – specifically the release on Xbox Live Arcade with online play – was on one of my old lists. So not only am I getting what I asked for (including online play via Digital Eclipse), but an additional 5 games on top of that. Granted, both Samurai Shodown II and V Special already had PC ports available via GOG and the Humble Store, but this package should be much more robust.

But before we get to the list itself, I’ll go over my criteria for these lists. I generally stick to games that were released on PC from 2006 onward – essentially lining up with the seventh generation of video game consoles and beyond – that are not currently available on consoles or handhelds by legitimate means. This means that games that were present on older generations of console are omitted, but the games that were present on Microsoft’s discontinued Xbox Live Indie Games (XBLIG) are fair game at this point. I’ll also be listing the platforms I feel would be the most likely (or at least the best fit) for each game in question. And with that brief recap, let’s get into the list itself.

EvilQuest

I guess you could claim that bringing up this game could be considered cheating. But as this game was originally an exclusive to the Xbox Live Indie Games (XBLIG) program – which has since been discontinued – before seeing its only other release on PC, I think it’s fair game. After all, I managed to pick Super Killer Hornet: Resurrection a couple years back under similar circumstances and the service was merely on the verge of being shut down at that point. Now that it’s fully dead, it only seems fair to pick at the carcass with reckless abandon.

EvilQuest isn’t necessarily the best action RPG in existence, but considering the fact that it’s only $2, it’s well worth the cost. I actually streamed the game awhile back at the request of a friend – who actually purchased it for me, so I kind of felt like I owed it to him. Better still, maybe a console re-release would help to fund the game’s sequel, which was greenlit on Steam back in 2017, the last bit of information regarding the game before the developer, Chaosoft Games, went completely radio silent.

Best Platform: While Xbox One might seem like a slam dunk given Microsoft’s current focus on backwards compatibility, the way XBLIG was handled ended up burning a great deal of bridges with small developers. And while Nintendo has a tendency of obtaining the rights to every indie game under the sun, they also have a tendency to curate those acquisitions. That leaves the PlayStation 4 as the winner by default.

Offspring Fling!

You know, it’s funny. This one has been sitting in my queue for years. I kind of expected that I’d never actually have the chance to do a write-up for it, because I kept expecting that it wouldn’t need one by the time I’d actually get around to it. Guess the joke’s on me, eh?

Offspring Fling is essentially one of those single-screen puzzle-platformers where you take on the role of a poor forest creature trying to rescue her babies which have been scattered throughout their home. After picking them up, she has the ability to throw them – which seems counter-intuitive, but necessary to press switches, stun predators and get them to safety. With over 100 levels and a stage editor, the game offers substantial content for its low $8 price tag. I’m actually kind of surprised that the game has yet to hit any consoles yet, especially since it’s been on my backlog since these lists became a yearly tradition.

Best Platform: I have to give it up for the Switch. This game’s been out for nearly 7 years now and while I think it’s probably a long shot all around, Nintendo seems to be the only company that is actively courting independent developers at this point. Of course, considering that the dev doesn’t really have too many newer titles that could be used as leverage, it’s still just a shot in the dark from my perspective.

Skeleton Boomerang

Speaking of obscure games with little chance of actually getting ported, Skeleton Boomerang is another game by ANIM•ACE, the same company that brought us Aliens Go Home Run from last year’s list. While that previous game was more of a modern take on Breakout, Skeleton Boomerang is a platformer where the main character uses boomerangs to fight skeletons – hence the title. Of course, there are many secrets and upgrades that can be obtained and higher scores yield better hauls. What really got me hooked on the game was the soundtrack, composed by one of my favorite chiptune artists +TEK. It’s no surprise that Disco Necropolis – one of the game’s stage themes – became the subject of several remixes.

Best Platform: Considering the developer appears to be on hiatus, I have my doubts that this will ever be ported. But if anyone is going to do it, I’d be willing to bet money this game would appear on the Switch. Chances are, if they really wanted the game, they could just buy the rights to it and farm out a console port to some other studio.

Super Cyborg

I guess I chose a bad time to include this, given Konami’s recent announcement of a Contra Anniversary Collection for… well, everything. Not to mention Joymasher’s Blazing Chrome – a clear homage to the best Contra game, Hard Corps – is clearly going to release in the near future. In other words, fans of Contra and the like are clearly in for some good times in the coming months but adding Super Cyborg to the mix could only make things better.

Super Cyborg is a game that I’d best describe as coming from an alternate reality, where instead of sticking to consoles, Konami decided to make a wholly original Contra game for DOS computers… and they actually put effort into making it worthwhile. Or maybe a world where Apogee was inspired by Super C instead of Super Mario Bros. 3. Regardless, it’s packed with old-school charm, with both fast-paced gameplay and graphics that evoke the EGA graphics of years past.

Best Platform: I think the Xbox One wins this by default. Nintendo tends to go for the most prominent indie games, while Sony has essentially shifted towards commissioning games from independent developers on their own terms these days. Sifting through more obscure titles for hidden gems seems to be Microsoft’s modus operandi when it comes to nabbing indie exclusives these days. …that or just buying out the studios that made them.

Death’s Hangover

Speaking of ripoffs homages to classic video games, my next entry is a Breakout clone developed by Retro Army Limited, the same people who gave us Verdict Guilty. After the Grim Reaper finds that Dracula has stolen several souls, he summons two of the greatest dead warriors he can find. Unfortunately, it’s slim pickings so he’s left with two of the biggest morons who ever lived, Andy and Bob. Giving them new female bodies, the two are tasked with defeating Dracula and taking back Grim’s lost souls. If they fail, they’ll be killed again… so no pressure. With Andy moving a giant paddle and Bob taking refuge within the ball, the two must battle through Dracula’s minions before dealing with the vampire lord himself. The game contains a fair amount of rude humor, but it also comes with a level editor: a pretty nice bonus one doesn’t generally associate with bat-and-ball games.

Best Platform: The thing is, I think this game is equally capable of ending up in an indie sizzle reel for any of the three major console manufacturers. However, since I gave them Verdict Guilty last year, my money would go with the Switch. Besides, they do seem to take risks when it comes to odder titles, so this does seem to be right down their alley.

Tetrobot and Co.

Effectively the sequel to Blocks That Matter – which surprisingly did appear on the Xbox 360 back in the day – Tetrobot and Co. takes place years later. The Tetrobot robot from the first game has become the world’s most popular and reliable robot, leading to several variants. Unfortunately, they’re not perfect: they’re all prone to damage both external and internal. For that reason, a young roboticist by the name of Maya developed a microscopic “little brother” for the Tetrobot line, known as Psychobot. Players are tasked with navigating the innards of the larger robots and fixing them by solving various block puzzles.

While the game itself recommends that it be played with a mouse, there are alternative controls meant for a standard gamepad as well, meaning that the game should be easy enough to port to consoles.

Best Platform: Considering the fact that the Xbox 360 was the only non-PC platform to receive the original game, it seems most likely that the Xbox One would receive the nod should Tetrobot ever hit consoles. The fact that it also has native mouse support doesn’t hurt its chances much either.

Vanguard Princess

You had to know I’d be including another fighting game this year, didn’t you? At first glance, Vanguard Princess appears to be a standard anime-themed 2D fighting game, but its unique blend of mechanics makes it seem more like an homage to several points in Japan’s history with the genre. Players choose a main fighter and an assist character that they can summon at various points in the match. And while the game contains super meters – and by extension, super moves – the combat feels significantly more grounded than most modern fighters, more akin to the earliest versions of Street Fighter II.

Honestly, I’m kind of surprised that this one hasn’t already come out on consoles: there’s no netplay, so couch multiplayer isn’t just recommended, it’s downright necessary. Better still, some of the more fan servicey elements are censored by default, only made available to players after downloading a free “Director’s Cut” DLC. In other words, eigoMANGA doesn’t even have to worry about the ESRB.

Best Platform: Much like Verdict Guilty from last year, my odds-on favorite for VP is the Switch. Even these days, the platform is lacking in fighting game representation and it seems like Nintendo is the safest home for a little-known game with any fanservice whatsoever nowadays. How the tables have turned.

Princess Remedy in a World of Hurt/Princess Remedy 2: In A Heap of Trouble

Okay, technically this entry consists of two games but that hasn’t stopped me before. In fact, this time, it might be more beneficial to just pack them together: the first game is free on Steam in the first place. Both games are essentially action-RPGs with a graphical style reminiscent of retro computers like the ZX Spectrum. The player takes on the role of the titular Princess Remedy uses the healing arts she learned as a student of the Saturnian healing school to cure people of their rare ailments. But she doesn’t heal them the boring way with spells and potions, she fights them head-on by hurling giant pills and syringes at the physical manifestations of the illnesses themselves. Whether she’s healing an ill prince or saving the people of the aptly-named “Boss Tower”, Princess Remedy is ready to keep her Hippocratic Oath by any means necessary.

Best Platform: I’m going to have to give this one to the Switch again. Nintendo’s had a history of partnering up with the game’s developer Ludosity and I think that’ll work in their favor. I’m not sure if Nicalis would be willing to delve into the rest of the catalog for Nintendo’s sake though.

Recettear: An Item Shop’s Tale

If you haven’t guessed by now, action-RPGs are clearly among my favorite subgenres, so it’s only reasonable that I include a second. Like Offspring Fling!, Recettear: An Item Shop’s Tale has been on my list for a long time, if only because of its premise. Players take on the role of a young girl named Recette Lemongrass who wakes one morning to find that her home has been transformed into an item shop. It turns out her father took out a massive loan and left Recette in charge of paying it off. But don’t worry, Recette is joined by a fairy companion by the name of Tear, whether she wants her help or not.

The game is essentially balanced between two distinct but equally important halves: running the item shop itself – which includes setting prices, managing stock and creating a welcoming atmosphere for potential customers – and traveling through the world, looking for brand new items to sell in traditional action RPG fashion. In fact, Recette can even hire various adventurers to make exploring various dungeons even easier.

Best Platform: I think the PlayStation 4 is the likeliest contender for Recettear. Granted, I think this one’s another long shot in general, but Carpe Fulgur – the translation studio that published the game on Steam – does have a history of working on games that appeared on Sony’s earlier systems. Not exactly the strongest connection, mind you, but it’s the best I can think up.

Post Apocalyptic Mayhem

Our final game answers a question that I doubt anyone has ever asked: what if Twisted Metal were a traditional racing game instead of a straight-up demolition derby? Fortunately, the fine people at Steel Monkeys (in conjunction with their publisher, Next Dimension Game Adventures Ltd.) decided to answer that question and do a decent job of it. Sure, the game isn’t the prettiest out there and the mechanics can be a little clunky at times, but that kind of fits with the post-apocalyptic setting.

Best Platform: This is another tough one. Steel Monkeys does have history working on older systems from all three current console manufacturers with no clear favorite. Nowadays, it looks like both the developer and their publisher stick to PC and mobile games. As such, I’d probably give this to the Xbox One, if only because Microsoft is the standard torchbearer of the former.

And so, with that, another list comes to its conclusion. Much like the PC Ports wishlists of old, it’s getting harder and harder to find suitable games for these lists. But while the issue with the older lists was my inability to find games that excited me, I take the mounting difficulty that these lists are sure to pose in later years as a challenge: to find more hidden gems currently exclusive to PC (and possibly smartphones, but no one cares about that) that deserve their time in the spotlight.

Retrospective: Devil May Cry – Part 1

The year is 2001, we’re wrapping up the first generation dominated by 3D games and ushering in the second. Over the past five or six years, games of all genres have made the leap to 3D, some more successfully than others. One genre that certainly did not have success was the beat-em-up. Enjoying a lot of popularity in the late 80s and early 90s, the melee combat focused genre practically vanished during late 90s. There were a few attempts to make 3D beat-em-ups (Perfect Weapon, Fighting Force, Die Hard Arcade) but they did not catch on and for the most part were considered very low quality. The genre seemed destined to vanish, it didn’t even have the type of hardcore niche community that shmups had and have.

Then, in Fall 2001 (at least in the West), a game was released that changed everything. A game that showed the beat-em-up wasn’t in a coffin, but a cocoon about to burst open and reveal a new genre that took the concept farther than any could have imagined a decade earlier. The “character action game” genre (or that’s what I’m going to call it anyway, there was never a truly universal consensus on the name) was born, and the super-genre of action games would never be the same. And the game that caused all this was, of course, Devil May Cry. I’ve been with the series since the beginning and love the genre that it codified, so in honor of the long-awaited Devil May Cry 5, I’m going to do my first formal retrospective on the DMC series. So grab your pizza, get interrupted while eating it, and let’s rock, baby!

Continue reading

But Is It Art? – DmC: Devil May Cry

Considering the fact that Devil May Cry 5 is coming out later this month, I figured I’d write an article celebrating the series’ imminent return to form. You’d expect me to write some kind of a retrospective on the series – a relatively easy feat, as I’ve recently played through all of them for the first time – but fortunately, KI’s got that covered. So, what’s an Icepick to do to show his newfound respect for the series? Why not explore one of the more detested entries in the series, justifying its existence under the pretense of art criticism. But which game should get the nod? There are two obvious picks there, but I’ll be honest: even I’m not crazy enough to try to justify the absolutely mediocre Devil May Cry 2 – which had twice the characters and half the fun of the first one! Instead, let’s discuss what I would consider the most “overhated” of Capcom’s Western ventures, 2013’s DmC: Devil May Cry.

This is something of a departure from the typical formula of the “But Is It Art?” articles. Generally, I try to find a way to justify gameplay-centered issues as intentional choices on the part of the developer to experiment with the medium or to utilize its unique interactivity to achieve something aside from the typical goal of video games: fun. The problem with viewing DmC through this lens is simple: I actually enjoyed the gameplay! In fact, it seems like the most prominent mechanical criticism leveled at Ninja Theory’s take on the series is simply that it’s unlike the previous games.

No, the hatred most gamers levied toward DmC stemmed from something far shallower: the game was a reboot of a beloved series that attempted to appeal to Westerners – or at least, what the Japanese believed would appeal to Westerners. The game’s storyline, aesthetic and even the way it was revealed to the public is what caused the massive backlash against the game, which fell below Capcom’s sales expectations but it’s still the second best-selling game in the series after my personal favorite, DMC4. It’s going to be a change of pace, but that’s what makes this article so interesting to me. I’ll have to be far more inventive when defending DmC compared to previous articles in the series, justifying something far more subjective than mechanical gameplay quirks.

Fortunately, I only recently played the game to cap off a quick primer through the series after streaming the HD Collection late last year got me interested in the remainder of the series. I’m only a couple of months removed from my playthrough of the game, so my memory of the game is still fresh. And if there’s one thing that DmC’s story reminded me of, it was various film adaptations of popular video games. Of course, Capcom themselves are no stranger to branching out into cinema: with the Street Fighter film earning Capcom money through syndication and DVD sales to this day – though the less said about The Legend of Chun-Li, the better – and Sony Pictures’ Resident Evil series, which lasted for six films and is rumored to be in the process of a reboot as we speak. Dead Rising even received a direct-to-video film and it seems that both Monster Hunter and MegaMan are even poised to make their debut on the silver screen sometime soon. In fact, even while watching the game’s various cutscenes (especially those early in the game), I was reminded more of various trashy film adaptations and not strictly those based around video games. With that in mind, I’d like to pose a controversial hypothesis: DmC: Devil May Cry was not an attempt at a reboot, it was “Devil May Cry: The Movie” – or perhaps even “Devil May Cry: The Movie: The Game”!

In that respect, it actually seems to follow many conventions associated with film adaptations of works found in other mediums. The first game’s main antagonist Mundus finally manages to resurface, after only appearing in a single game. And much like in his first appearance, Dante’s hatred for him is established before he is defeated, never to be seen again. Vergil also gets incorporated into this new origin story, a smart move given both the character’s popularity and his relatively short shelf life in the series proper. As for more contemporary references, the name of Vergil’s underground rebellion faction is “The Order”, similar to “The Order of the Sword”, DMC4’s villainous organization that was simply called “The Order” throughout most of the game. Couple that with a brand-new setting and a significantly overhauled mythology, along with a few original characters to keep the audience on their toes and that’s essentially the standard formula for any American film based on a video game made since 1993. I’m honestly surprised that this wasn’t made a bigger point when people criticized DmC.

20190226105734_2

Was this Ninja Theory’s message to the fans or vice versa? You decide.

Much like many other Capcom video game adaptations – their syndicated cartoons from the 1990s spring to mind almost immediately – perhaps the most baffling part about this is just how many simple elements of the core story DmC gets “wrong”. Of course, I’m using scare quotes because this reboot (and by extension, any other adaptation) has no real effect on the main continuity in the first place, so they’re more than free to experiment and change plot points (et al) to their liking with no perceivable consequences felt by the “real” version. What is truly baffling though, is the fact that despite getting simple aspects wrong, they end up almost acknowledging more obscure elements correctly. It’s like when I was rewatching the Darkstalkers cartoon recently and started shaking my head when they called Sasquatch “Bigfoot” or turned Anakaris into a senile nutcase… and then they end up bringing up the fact that Bishamon wasn’t truly evil, he was simply under the control of the cursed armor Hannya and the introduction of Huitzil. It was legitimately more baffling to see a no-budget show that seemed to miss the mark 90% of the time pick up on far more advanced elements of the lore… and yet, I had a similar moment when it came to DmC.

For the entirety of the game, both Dante and Vergil are referred to as “Nephilim”, because they were the product of the relationship between their angelic mother and demonic father. I did a little bit of research and it turns out the most common definition for such a mythological creature is the spawn of “fallen angels” and humans – which is exactly what the sons of Sparda were in the main timeline. Likewise, later in the game, Yamato was used to seal the Hell Gate – exactly as it was in the fourth game in the mainline series. During that moment, I had a feeling of déjà vu, reminding me of those moments in other adaptations I’d already written off as trash surprising me with a lesser-known piece of trivia.

But let’s get to the main attraction, I’ve clearly been stalling long enough. It’s time to address the most controversial aspect of DmC: Dante (or “Donte”, if you prefer) himself. I see no point in lying, given my history with the franchise as a whole: when DmC itself was first revealed to the public, I wasn’t really a fan of the series – so I ended up just laughing uncontrollably at the entire controversy, even deciding to pick up the game out of spite for the fanbase. Even though I ended up coming around on the series itself, I don’t regret my decision in the slightest. However, I don’t think I could ever deny that the way that the game’s producer – Ninja Theory’s Tameem Antoniades – revealed both the game’s existence and the radical departure of the main character from everything associated with Dante since the character’s debut in 2001 was a bold miscalculation. I don’t think it could’ve possibly been more incendiary, even going so far as implying that the classic Dante was more “gay” than awesome – what can I say? It was a different time: 2012! The fact that the new design planned for Dante was simultaneously a hodgepodge of every unpopular element associated with gritty reboots of classic franchises and somehow also resembled a self-insert of the producer himself only served to raise tensions to fever pitch. However, one thing that gets left in the dust is that the producer himself apparently only utilized Brokeback Mountain and Fight Club to illustrate just how little the Dante of yore fit with the aesthetic he was aiming for: that of an American movie, which cements my argument that the game was meant more as an adaptation than as a reboot.

Of course, Nu-Dante’s look changed a fair amount from his initial reveal, opting for a far less sickly and slim appearance for something at least slightly more traditional, but the damage had already been done. Gone was the snarky, lovable, young (or at least, young-at-heart) rogue that was classic Dante, and in his place, we were left with a snide, foul-mouthed punk dressed like an emo teenager. The radical change in appearance wasn’t helped by Dante’s new attitude – at least in the game’s first chapter. He even took a shot at the beloved character after a white wig landed on his head and he tosses it off, dismissing it with a pithy one-liner: “Not in a million years.” Truly a dagger through the heart of any and all DMC faithful and a characterization that would remain constant throughout the entirety of the game’s narrative.

20190108172544_1

Cracks me up every time.

…Except that isn’t how things went down at all. Yes, “Donte” started out as a smart-mouthed jerk with little regard from anything and anyone, but as the story unfolded, repressed memories of his childhood begin to resurface and reflecting on the familial bond he had with his younger twin Vergil – again, never claimed DmC got everything right – and his mother, Eva, causes a bit of character growth. On that note, he slowly finds himself becoming attached to Kat, one of Vergil’s followers with a penchant towards witchcraft. In other words, the new Dante wasn’t a one-dimensional character: he was just written like the shallowest possible action film protagonist. That’s not necessarily a significant improvement, but it’s certainly better than the perception that he’s a mere straw nihilist and sociopath. My editor even brought up that the scene that caused so much controversy was merely a case of dramatic irony: by the end of the game, Dante’s hair goes from a filthy black to its more traditional white – to match this new Dante’s more positive outlook. If anything, the game’s story comes across more like a far-flung prequel in a new continuity, showing us how he became a more heroic character in the first place as opposed to just starting with him fully formed. Even if the story itself wasn’t particularly well-written, I can at least appreciate their effort to flesh out the character, when all of his previous incarnations – even the much younger incarnation in DMC3 – stayed relatively consistent.

And if you think defending the decisions that led to Nu-Dante was a controversial stance, get ready for my next opinion. Frankly, I think DmC handled the characters of Vergil and Mundus substantially better than the mainline continuity. Granted, it’s not exactly a fair comparison in that regard, especially in Mundus’s case: in the original Devil May Cry (his only appearance in DMC proper thus far), he was constrained by a limited storyline altogether, effectively acting as the plot’s mastermind, leaving most of what little character development the game had for antagonists to his minions, especially Trish and Vergil Nelo Angelo. DmC’s Mundus, on the other hand, is significantly more fleshed out and given hints toward an actual motivation besides “hate Sparda, take over world, kill Dante” like his DMC1 incarnation. Sure, he’s a gross crime lord, but he tries to justify his position as de facto ruler of the world. His arguments with Dante end up painting him as the kind of figure every teenager views every single adult as, but if we consider that Ninja Theory was clearly aiming for a cinematic storyline in the first place, that makes Mundus’s motivations average at worst.

Vergil, on the other hand, has significantly less of an excuse to be a flat character. Aside from the slight characterization he received through a flashback in the original DMC, he was the main antagonist of the third game – the first one to really focus on story development in any meaningful way. Despite that, Dante’s older twin comes across like every single edgy 12-year-old’s original character with his spiky hair, aloof personality and broken powers that only seem to activate when he’s a boss and not when he’s a playable character. It’d almost be endearing if he weren’t considered the most prominent villain in one of Capcom’s most popular franchises. DmC’s take on Vergil is much different and (dare I say?) my favorite iteration of the character. Vergil first appears in the game as a benevolent character, fighting for the freedom of humanity from Mundus’s demonic horde and genuinely wants to reconnect with his twin brother. As the game’s narrative continues, it becomes clear that Vergil’s kindness is a façade, as he ends up selling out one of his more loyal agents and eventually reveals that his true plan was to rule humanity alongside Dante all along.

As much as I didn’t like playing the Vergil’s Downfall DLC, the storyline reasoning that led to him taking on a much more familiar form was dying and grappling with his inferiority complex, punctuated by some downright erratic 2D animation. The storyline wasn’t highly cerebral by any means and was about on par with the main game’s storyline, but it’s certainly better than his backstory in the mainline games which boils down to nothing. Suffice it to say, while playing through the DMC series proper eventually made me come around to Dante – though to be honest, it was his depictions in the DMC5 previews that clinched it for me – it took DmC for me to find an iteration of his twin even remotely interesting. That has to count for something.

20190116162734_1

Alas, a still from the cutscenes in Vergil’s Downfall can’t do them justice.

Speaking of which, another thing I loved about DmC was its setting design. Ninja Theory seemed to take inspiration from both the core Capcom DMC games and their sister series — Platinum Games’ Bayonetta, the creation of DMC1’s director Hideki Kamiya – but seen through a grungier, Westernized filter. In that sense alone, I definitely prefer the look of DmC and I don’t appear to be alone in that assessment. Even Hideaki Itsuno – the man who has been in charge of the series since the tail-end of the second game’s development – seems to have taken a little inspiration from it for DMC5, at least from what I’ve seen of the game so far.

The point is that while the traditional DMC games tended to have the action take place in the real world, DmC had Dante shifting between the real world and “Limbo” for combat, essentially taking a page from the aforementioned Bayonetta. And while calling the game’s setting “Limbo City” is on the nose, the transformation of the landscape when shifting between dimensions is honestly probably my favorite aspect of the game from a design perspective. While Bayonetta’s setting never really changed based on what plane of reality she inhabits, DmC’s Limbo causes the existing structure in the real world to twist and turn into mangled structures. Buildings shatter and their fragments turn into bridges, the twisted metal of a soft drink factory gives way to the demonic flesh-covered structures associated with the later levels of the Capcom games and even Dante’s own mindscape consists of these twisted structures.

My favorite set piece in the entire game is when Dante finally faces off with Mundus’s right-hand man, a demon disguised as a none-too-subtle jab at the pundits on Fox News, Bob Barbas. The boss fight literally takes place on the promotional graphics for the show and he appears as a giant projection of his own head, surrounded by various digital screens, slowly degenerating into a mess of pixels not unlike a weak digital TV signal as he takes damage. Then, between the phases of the boss fight itself, Dante is sent back on a greatest hits tour of events that took place earlier in the game, via some grainy black-and-white footage with camera angles that are both awkward from a gameplay perspective and accurate to what one might expect to see on American cable news. The demented nightclub leading to the fight with Mundus’s lover Lilith (and their unborn child) is another highlight in my mind. The traditional DMC games generally stuck to a recurring aesthetic for the entirety of the game, but DmC just threw random nonsense at the wall to see what stuck and I loved every second of it.

20190113183310_3

…you thought I was joking, didn’t you?

Even the game’s user interface seems to take on a more “in-your-face” attitude compared to previous games. The vast majority of the UI is rendered in a stark, fading white text surrounded by chaotic black borders and what few graphical assets there were are rendered in a similar monochromatic style. As Dante reaches high combo levels, an unseen announcer begins screaming the associated phrases – another element that DMC5 appears to be adopting. It almost comes across like that weird strain of “corporate punk” you’ll generally see in media that’s directly attempting to cater to counter-culture warriors while still coming across as devoid of the substance those types claim to crave. Honestly, considering the game’s subject matter and the reaction to it, it was a match made in heaven with DmC.

Somehow, even the gameplay falls in line with this streamlined cinematic approach. The controls of the game are significantly simpler than previous games, with dedicated buttons for dodge rolls and launching enemies upward for air combos. On top of that, switching between Angelic and Infernal weaponry by holding down the Left and Right Triggers respectively and the simplified combo system from the original iteration of the game make the franchise’s stylish combat even more accessible – a fact that was met with scorn from the most outspoken die-hard DMC fans. But they’re missing the bigger picture. While Capcom’s last attempts at adapting one of their own properties back into a video game led to a chaotic nightmare of an arcade release and a weak knockoff of Super Turbo on home consoles, DmC successfully manages to pare down elements from its inspiration into something easily digestible for a broader audience, including players that aren’t well versed with the unique quirks from previous games. Call it a dumbed-down action game if you must, but I’d say it’s currently my third favorite game in the series.

Of course, I can’t disagree that Ninja Theory put much more of an emphasis on style over substance when it came to DmC. The level aesthetics are significantly more diverse in the 2013 title, compared to the areas in earlier games, which generally stuck to a more uniform theme throughout each title. However, DmC’s stages are much more linear than those found in previous games, to the point where backtracking is impossible more often than not. However, this also plays into the more cinematic nature of the game: with passive media like TV and movies, the audience is expected to simply move forward through the narrative. Rewinding isn’t necessary if the media in question has the viewer’s full attention.

Veering back towards the cinematic elements of the game, there are various points in the game that probably would’ve worked better as cutscenes or better still, within the confines of an actual film. There are a few segments where Dante’s movement is slowed to a crawl and he’s unable to jump or attack while having slow world-building conversations with Kat. Likewise, there were a few levels that simply involved escaping a collapsing set piece, essentially like a more advanced take on the quick-time events I typically hate in action games, except utilizing the game’s standard mechanics as opposed to simply pressing a button at just the right moment. Honestly, it was these moments that cemented the game’s ranking in my eyes – and not in a good way.

In the end, I don’t think that I even intended to write this article to attempt to shift the general consensus on DmC: Devil May Cry. Unlike with Bioshock 2 – which I always considered the best game in the series – I’m sure the general consensus on the game will remain constant for the rest of either my lifespan or the franchise’s, whichever expires first. However, there is one heroic action that can be attributed to DmC that even the game’s most ardent detractors must keep in mind: its failure to meet sales expectations caused Capcom to abandon their strategy of farming games out to outside Western developers. In turn, that shift forced them to refocus on internal development, leading to their current renaissance with games like Monster Hunter World, MegaMan 11, the Resident Evil 2 Remake and even the upcoming Devil May Cry 5. Sure, we still got saddled with Lost Planet 3, Operation Raccoon City and Umbrella Corps before that, but I’m sure those games were so far along in development by the time Capcom came to their decision, they felt it’d be a wiser financial move to finish development and release them. Now that didn’t go according to plan, but as they say: nothing ventured, nothing gained. In other words, DmC is responsible for Capcom’s return to form and no amount of bile and vitriol can ever erase that.

Itsuno even stated in an interview that he “really wanted” to make a direct sequel to DmC before being tasked with making a new game in the original timeline. So clearly, he saw something in the game like I did. Honestly, considering the death of Capcom Vancouver (which will likely cause a long-term retirement for the Dead Rising series) and Ninja Theory’s acquisition by Microsoft, I’d love to see DmC2 as a next-gen Xbox exclusive… so long as Itsuno is still up for it. But the most important thing to remember is that in every major DMC release since DmC’s release – Devil May Cry 4: Special Edition and even Devil May Cry 5 – Dante has an alternate color palette resembling his unpopular counterpart. Not in a million years, indeed.

Dante_DmC_DANTE_costumes

SEE  YOU  SPACE  DONTE...

Connection Lost

Just a quick warning: this article is bound to fall into “delusional rant” territory pretty quickly – anyone familiar with my personal sideblog probably knows exactly what I’m talking about. If you prefer my more “reasoned” articles, then I’m afraid you’ll have to come back next month. Though the feelings I’m about to express have been bubbling in my subconscious for what feels like years – maybe even a decade or longer at this point – last December’s Game Awards is where everything finally came to a head and I was finally able to understand exactly why I’ve been feeling so bitter toward one of my all-time favorite hobbies. Every category seemed chock full of games I had absolutely no interest in – MegaMan 11 was the one game in any category that I’d actually played that year and I could count the other nominees I was actually interested in on one hand – but worse was the announcements. My reactions were so out of step with (what felt like) everyone else, it was as if I had seen a completely different presentation. And though that feeling only managed to hit me that hard at the 2018 Game Awards, I quickly realized that it wasn’t a new feeling. I’d felt similarly isolated during that year’s E3 and other major events from years past. I’m still not sure exactly when it began, but one thing was clear to me: I’ve clearly lost my connection with the larger gaming community.

It’s a difficult feeling to describe in general, mainly because this isn’t really the first time this happened to me. I keep on bringing up just how much I fell out of gaming after the death of the Dreamcast in North America and the PlayStation 2 going on to dominate the sixth generation. The thing is, that was more of a conscious choice on my part: I saw just how things were going down and decided to jump ship on my own – choosing to insulate myself with retro games and Nintendo’s Game Boy Advance acted as the only form of contemporary gaming I’d remotely pay attention to throughout high school. This feels different though, there was no point where I actively decided to forsake gaming. This time, it’s more like the hobby itself is discarding me.

Granted, even that isn’t necessarily a new feeling from me. You’re reading the words of someone who as a child always chose vanilla over chocolate or strawberry when it came to cheap ice cream cups – even though the only difference was the presence of flavored syrup. Standing out wasn’t necessarily a conscious choice on my part throughout childhood, but I’ve always been reluctant with going with whatever’s standard for the sake of fitting in. Of course, my feelings toward that tendency evolved throughout my life, going from obliviousness to misguided pride (“I’m different, which means I’m unique – which is good!”) to shame (I’ve hated drawing attention to myself for decades now.) to just oscillating between outright apathy and a mild hatred of the people who caused the standard in the first place.

At the same time, it feels like a repeat of another developmental milestone in my life: that point where I realized that people weren’t going to automatically be interested in whatever I was passionate about. At that point in my life, I actively became far more cloistered – choosing only to discuss things I liked with whatever few poor souls I encountered that clearly had the same interests I did. This time, it’s far worse though: if anything, it feels as if other gamers are more likely to be hostile or just bored of whatever I have to say about the medium. The major difference is that this time around I know that quieting myself isn’t the answer, but frankly, that’s probably only because I’ve gotten so used to hostility in general that I’ve come to use my personal stances as a bludgeon against anyone who could possibly disagree with me. Fortunately, I’ve been having arguments for so long – as I feel constant pressure to come up with an entire dissertation to justify each and every single deviation present in my personality on the spot to anyone who disagrees, deciding that a simple “No U” is more than enough to defeat any argument I could possibly come up with to justify my own opinions – it just feels like business as usual.

Of course, if that were the only thing going down, I wouldn’t be writing this article. The problem with my chosen hobby’s newfound tendency of alienating me is that there are concrete consequences to this problem. For quite some time now, I’ve found that many of the games that appeal to me are niche titles. Games built for a small-but-dedicated audience, putting artisan-level craftsmanship into gameplay instead of creating blockbusters with bloated budgets that are more likely to push modern hardware to their limits due to poor coding than because of graphical fidelity. The problem is that, while on the surface, I should be rooting for the games I love to succeed beyond their creators’ wildest dreams, this popularity tends to invoke a caveat.

The new customers become far more important to the bottom line than the old guard, due to their higher number. Alas, this new fanbase is fickle, quickly moving onto the next trend leaving naught but the cult following behind. At that point, there’s a higher than 0% (I generally rank it at about 75%) chance that the company in question will begin to fiend for their fleeting fame to last more than the standard 15 minutes. So, they begin to make changes, claiming that they’re branching out to a “wider audience”. Now, sometimes this isn’t exactly inevitable – but let’s be honest, I can probably count the number of times broadening appeal hasn’t led to a severe drop in quality. Far too often, however, we’re left with yet another bland amorphous blob, trying desperately to reach the lofty heights of the AAA titles dominating the medium but falling ever so short, at the cost of whatever quality the brand had in the first place. And no matter how many cult classics are sacrificed at the altar of mainstream popularity, companies keep whittling away at the things that made people love their smaller games in the first place, proclaiming that “this time will be different” from all of the others who were left with an expensive flop that left old fans jilted and failed to draw a new audience. In some sick, twisted sense, this behavior feels like an attack directed at me. But if anything, it’s an attack on any and all gamers that love niche titles. It just seems like the gaming zeitgeist has been taking a far more calculated aim at me as of late.

Of course, the major problem with pivoting toward a larger fanbase is that the best-case scenario for casting a wider net is simplifying the gameplay to some extent. More often than not though, it will involve a shift into whatever genre is trendy at that point in time. I constantly hear people bray about how “things were always this bad” and that I’m a hypocrite for complaining now when I got so much enjoyment out of the deluge of fighting games and platformers starring cartoon mascots with attitude throughout the early-to-mid ‘90s. The problem with this strain of popular genres is that everything feels the need to incorporate all of them into a single game. Even during the sixth generation, when everything was either trying to be Halo or Grand Theft Auto III, at least those were two separate trends that overshadowed everything else. Nowadays, it feels like just about every game that receives even the most remote amount of mainstream attention has to be an open-world battle royale game with crafting elements. I mean, I don’t remember a single, solitary first-person fighting games starring cartoon mascots back in what I’d consider gaming’s halcyon days – but would appreciate it if anyone who does would point me in their direction, because that sounds like my kind of terrible.

But let’s get back on track – going off on tangents is inevitable when I’m in the middle of a rant. I guess my protective nature over the things I enjoy stems from a childhood (no, a lifetime!) of watching people destroying things of mine after I decide to share with them. You’d either have to be a masochist or downright insane to avoid developing some kind of complex over that kind of shabby treatment. Unfortunately, that tendency of mine tends to spill over into far more abstract territories – like niche titles I enjoy. The smaller the fanbase when I discover something, the more of a claim I feel to the property itself. Then as the audience swells, I often worry over what new directions future iterations may take in an effort to appeal to this new legion of fair-weather fans, or worse to expand the property’s reach to the even larger mainstream. After all, no one can argue that attempting to appeal to a wider audience tends to fare poorly for the quality of “artisanal” games as a rule, with what few exceptions exist in this regard only serving to reinforce the commonality.

The problem is that no matter how hard I try to logically dispel these feelings, there’s little to no chance that they’ll recede at this point. It’s 2019 and it seems as if just how cinematic a game is has become more important than how it actually plays. This feeling isn’t unlike what caused my isolationist approach during the sixth generation, but this time, I don’t have portables to act as a barrier between myself and the trends I find so worrying. No, this time, I worry my alienation may be permanent and might even escalate as time marches forward. Beloved franchises will continue to fall at the uncaring hands of the mainstream. And my vision of the future is just about everything I love is at risk of turning into another Dead Space 3 as the audience they were aiming for proceeds to floss on the graves of countless series I love sent out to die with sales expectations that would make Square Enix blush. Perhaps not quite as intimidating as a boot stamping on a human face forever, but the sentiment’s still there.

The only consolation with this endless march forward into despair is that each time a beloved developer of mine falls to into the same imaginary trap – believing that they will be the next big thing to fall headlong into the never satiated maw of the massive audience that literally only cares about a single established property at any given moment – it seems like I’m able to discover a brand new one, who manages to scratch a long-neglected itch of mine. So far, discovering the new far outpaces being discarded by the old and fortunately, it looks like that trend won’t be slowing down anytime soon. I also seem to be getting better at discovering obscure titles lately – new and old – so my consolation is that even if the entire medium decides to leave me in the dust, I’ve got an immense backlog of video games to work through. Maybe I’m giving these trends too much credit, but it’s nice to have an insurance policy.

Armchair Dev: MegaMan 12

I’ve got to say, out of all the series I’ve written on Retronaissance, Armchair Dev is clearly the least uniform when it comes to format. I’ve only written two so far, but they were both so wildly different from one another. And now that we’ve come to number three, I’ve got an even more radical departure in mind. It makes me wonder why I’d even consider a trio of such disjointed articles to be a series in the first place. In the end, I guess the topic at hand is far more important than adhering to some silly format.

While my certainty that an X9 announcement would surface near the 25th anniversary of the original MegaMan X’s release date was clearly misplaced, I still believe that will be Capcom’s next move – so long as MM11 did as well as I predict it did. Honestly, I wouldn’t be surprised if it showed up near the bottom of Capcom’s Platinum Titles list after its next update, if only because it’s a brand-new game that launched on all major titles at a budget price with both physical and digital editions. But listen to me talking about the past: we haven’t had a new MegaMan game since last year! Today’s topic will delve back into the Classic series with a “MegaMan 12”.

Why go straight to MM12, you ask? Well, there aren’t too many remaining avenues for other existing sub-series for Capcom to explore. I’ve already stated that I expect Capcom to revitalize the X franchise next. Battle Network, Zero and Star Force have all come to at least some form of a conclusion – though honestly, I did end up coming up with a plot for a potential MMSF4… that Capcom would probably never use, because it might be a bit too bleak or edgy for the series. On that note, the less said about XOver, the better: even though some members of the fanbase have come around to the game’s world-building, the gameplay would clearly need to be reworked and I’d say chances are that would leave us with yet another 2D platformer.

That leaves us with two other sub-series I’d consider ripe for the picking, but both have their issues. All things considered, I just don’t see Legends 3 happening any time soon: Capcom’s faith in the series is shaky at best and the wounds left among the die-hard Legends fans after Capcom’s failure to greenlight it are still as raw today as they were seven-and-a-half years ago – has it really been that long? And if I were to be honest, my advice for a potential ZX3 can be boiled down to a single sentence: “Hire Inti Creates again.” Like, I would write that article right now and just leave that sentence, but I already gave away the gag, so there’s no point. Of course, that also means that you’re technically getting two pitches in a single article – lucky you! Besides, Advent outsold the original ZX and that still wasn’t enough to convince Capcom to greenlight a conclusion back in the day.

But before I put forth my pitch for another title in the MegaMan Classic line, let’s set our sights back to the far-flung year of 20XX 2018. For the first time since I’ve started writing Armchair Dev, I’ve been presented with a rare opportunity: the latest game in the classic MegaMan series is contemporary. As such, I’ll be doing a short mini-review to show off exactly where my mindset is when it comes to a future title. I won’t be going too in-depth – at this point, I’m hoping we get enough MM games overall to justify a “post-Inafune era” retrospective by the time I’m done with the other sub-lines – but exploring how I reacted to 11 would provide crucial insight into the choices I’ll make when discussing a potential sequel.

MegaMan 11 Mini-Review

Obviously, it’s best to start with what MegaMan 11 did right. For starters, Capcom did an excellent job of recreating the classic 2D platforming gameplay with the use of 3D models. Though, honestly, considering how well they did with Powered Up and even Maverick Hunter X over a decade ago, I was expecting that from the get-go. More impressive is the level design: Capcom clearly wanted to find a way to give players more game without discarding MegaMan’s NES-era conventions. By making the stages longer, they gave long-time players like me a proper challenge, while the easier difficulty settings allowed less-confident players the ability to play with extra lives that seemed properly balanced against the longer stages (in Casual mode) or even infinite lives (in Newcomer difficulty) for those new to the series, as well as additional checkpoints and other perks. The Double Gear mechanic was also interesting, though I generally found my use of both the Speed and Power Gears to be split between the stage and boss fights, respectively. I did pretty much outright ignore the Double Gear power-up itself, just because it had too much risk for far too little reward.

Honestly, 11 could’ve been the game that unseated MegaMan 10 as my favorite of the Classic MegaMan series… if not for one major issue. While most of the complaints I’ve seen about the game have focused on things like the Blue Bomber’s wonky animation or the game’s “bad soundtrack” – which is actually a problem with the composition’s instrumentation, but I’ve gone off-topic again – my major issue was structural. MM11 starts out well, with eight amazing stages, leading into the clear apex of the game’s platforming difficulty: the first Gear Fortress stage. Unfortunately, likely due to either budgetary or development time issues, Capcom didn’t stick the landing. Sure, the second Gear Fortress stage was good, but it was all downhill from there. The third stage was just a short hallway that leads straight to the room with the boss rush teleporters. Somehow, even the fourth stage – which consisted mostly of riding a platform to the final fight with Wily – offered more challenge. In fact, I’d say the final Wily stage did its job fairly well, it just came across as unfulfilling following the complete and utter disappointment that was stage 3.

So, before we move on and look ahead to the future, I’m going to just come through and say how Capcom could’ve fixed this past issue, so that it no longer hangs over my head like a storm cloud of despair. Of course, it’s easy enough to keep in mind that Capcom was clearly making a budget title with MM11 and most of the budget was clearly spent on building the game’s engine and rendering art assets. However, even SNES Master KI has acknowledged that the Dr. Light’s Trial challenge had enough content to make up at least two more stages. In other words, there was clearly enough material to build one more stage: a proper third Gear Fortress stage, that would shunt the third and fourth stages in the finished product into the fourth and fifth respectively. As for dealing with the budgetary issues of another boss for said stage, the answer is simple. Just bring back our old friend Copy Robot: all it would take is a clear palette swap to differentiate him from MegaMan. Better yet, do two of them – one equipped with the Speed Gear, the other with Power – to keep up the in-game explanation that Wily’s own in-universe lack of a budget, tricking MegaMan into thinking he equipped the full Double Gear system into his own copy, but rather using two cheaper robots to achieve the same effect. As for the road to the boss rush, I was surprised that they didn’t use a gauntlet of rematches with the game’s various mid-bosses, leading up to the teleport room. It would’ve been a low-effort way to expand on that stage’s theming in a meaningful way.

Regardless of what few issues I had with MM11, I’d have to say that it’s a sign that the MegaMan franchise is still in good hands, despite the departure of its long-time steward, Keiji Inafune. This is particularly good considering the last time the MegaMan franchise was wrested from his control, we ended up with the sixth and seventh MegaMan X games. Either way, I feel much more confident in the series future. So, without further ado, let’s delve into my own pitch for a MegaMan 12.

Core Concept

Explaining the core concept behind pitch feels so obvious, it’s almost like talking down to my audience. Still, considering this is one of the few elements that remained constant throughout this short series, I might as well continue the trend. MegaMan 12 doesn’t need to reinvent the wheel: it should just be a traditional “level pack” sequel that recycles everything that worked in 11 and refines everything that didn’t, leading to a similar but clearly improved successor. MM11 was clearly built at a budget price – the physical version costed a mere $30 – and as such, it lacked both the resources that many of Capcom’s recent and upcoming AAA releases have had and the proper existing framework that their compilations and HD remasters have had. Fortunately, the existence of 11 itself provides Capcom with a proper (but slightly rough) framework and focus should be put on improving and adding to the existing assets instead of tossing out the new engine and even many of the art assets that were built from the ground-up for the game.

Put simply, I want MegaMan 12 to be the MM10 to 11’s 9. I fully believe that what led to the MegaMan series’ decline wasn’t simply the formula growing stale, but rather exhaustion due to the lack of time between releases for the most part. Likewise, the more recent revival of the Classic series was eventually met with disdain because both games predated the retro trend. MegaMan 9 was considered original for bucking modern trends and opting to return to the Blue Bomber’s iconic 8-bit roots. MegaMan 10, on the other hand, was unfairly maligned because it was considered lazy, despite attempting to take the style in a new direction. Hopefully, the shift to a much more contemporary visual style will prevent a similar backlash against a twelfth MegaMan Classic game, forcing them to completely scrap their existing material and start from scratch yet again. Recycling assets is what allowed the MegaMan series to reach new heights of quality in the first place.

Structure

Doing a gameplay section for a new game in any extant MegaMan franchise is pointless. After all, I’ve written so much about the series as a whole, it’s safe to assume that what I’d want from the game (and honestly, what they should be going for) is more of the same – the traditional “jump and shoot” 2D gameplay at its finest. Hell, I’m even honestly fine either way if the Double Gear Mechanic returns in later games or not. If Capcom wants to branch out and experiment with the Blue Bomber, it would probably work best if they just went back to the old ways and spin off yet another series.

But that doesn’t mean that I don’t have any suggestions about how a new game should be built. Indeed, perhaps the only real input I can provide would be the way that the game itself should be structured. That is, my opinion on how many levels the next MegaMan Classic game should contain and exactly how they should be situated. After all, even from the very first sequel, the MegaMan series underwent some extreme formatting shifts: going from six Robot Masters to a heftier eight from the second game on, the revamped Doc Robot levels in MegaMan 3 gave rise to the fake villain fortresses found in the latter half of the NES games and the 16 and 32-bit era mainline Classic games incorporated both the introduction stages from the X series and the intermission stages from the later Game Boy games to expand their offerings. Alas, by the time MM9 decided to revive the series, Capcom decided to scale back to MM2’s formula and they haven’t looked back since. Hopefully, if MM12 leads to any reinvention for the franchise, it will first and foremost involve ditching this disappointing format.

For starters, I would love to see the return of the intro stage. While typically associated with the X series, other sub-series like the Zero and ZX games started players off by dropping them straight into the action. In fact, the very first MegaMan game to include an intro stage was the 1990 DOS game, published by Hi-Tech Expressions and developed by Rozner Labs – probably the only worthwhile thing about it. Conversely, MM11 started with a brief, optional tutorial sandbox area to help players new and old to adjust to the controls. Now while that’s probably a good idea in the long run, an introduction stage could’ve done a lot more to familiarize new players with exactly what a MegaMan game entails, rather than just teaching them which buttons shoot and jump. I’d suggest taking a page from MM8’s intro stage, which introduced players to the changed underwater physics – 8 opted to let Rock do a breaststroke instead of giving him his traditional moon-jump – and the new Mega Ball weapon.

On that note, I’d also stick to the traditional 8 Robot Masters format that the series has stuck to since 1988. When I was younger, I’d always wanted to see a game that would expand the number of bosses that would reward us with new weapons, but after reflecting on what that would mean, eight is enough. Balancing 8 weapons is already a Herculean feat – one I’d argue that Capcom struggles with even after more than 30 years of experience – adding more would just increase the chances of some weapons being completely useless. Worse yet, it might even lead to the re-retirement of the chargeable Mega Buster, something I definitely want to avoid.

However, a new MegaMan game should definitely have more than the traditional 12 stages. While the false fortresses we saw in 4-6 are kind of played out, I would love to see a return of the Doc Robot concept: that is, remixing the existing Robot Master stage assets with brand-new challenging layouts and bosses. It was an amazing concept back in MM3 and I always thought it was a shame that Capcom never revisited it in future titles. It just seemed like a cost-effective way of extending the game’s length. On the other hand, while I’m a fan of the Game Boy games’ intermission stage concept, the only way it would work would be if they split the bosses into two groups of four – an unpopular design choice among the majority of fans. Still, using additional stages to separate the 8 main bosses from the final fortress levels would be a perfect way to extend the game.

Finally, try to exceed the traditional four-stage layout for the final fortress. I know it’s not that uncommon, but even MM2 had a fifth Wily stage! Honestly, having at least 5 final levels seems like a good way to make sure that having a single weak stage would bring the quality of the entire fortress far less. Ideally, 12 would have roughly 6 levels with at least 4 full-length stages and 2 shorter ones, with the latter leading to the boss rush and final fight with Wily. Better yet, just repeat another one of MM8’s unique concepts and group the two of them together – it might even make for a more satisfying conclusion to the game.

Bonus Features

Now, MegaMan 11 didn’t skimp on extra content, but there was at least one notable omission that people harped on after the game had launched. A mysterious DLC listing on Steam that appeared not long after the game’s launch only served to fuel the fire with regards to one specific category: additional playable characters. While not specifically a series tradition, players have grown accustomed to having alternative playstyles represented in games such as MegaMan & Bass, MegaMan Powered Up and even the ninth and tenth mainline installments. That being said, let’s go over the obvious picks and just how they could differentiate from the Blue Bomber.

For me, the most obvious pick would be MegaMan’s evil counterpart and self-proclaimed rival, Mr. Special Wily Number 001 himself, Bass! With MegaMan boasting his full suite of abilities in MM11, Bass would be a perfect foil to Rock’s traditional playstyle: his aimable rapid fire shot, his X-style dash and even the double jump all feel like they would have been well-suited to 11’s platforming gauntlet. However, if Bass does return, please lock the Treble Boost behind the same criteria MM needs to unlock the Rush Jet – at least on higher difficulties. That thing could be completely broken if it gets the same kind of tweaks the Rush power-ups did in the latest game.

Next comes ProtoMan, perhaps the most highly requested secondary character. Unfortunately, Blues’s main draw in his previous appearances was that he had MM3’s slide and MM4’s Charge Shot – which MegaMan had eschewed in favor of his simplified moveset from MM2 – at the expense taking double damage (and recoil). Granted, he also had his traditional shield, which could be used to block projectiles while airborne, but this tended to be way less useful than one might expect in practice. In MegaMan 11, the Blue Bomber regained these abilities and since every fiber of my being is against dumbing him back down to his previous incarnation, the current playstyle would essentially just leave Protoman as a sort of bland “hard mode” character. And frankly, I think Dr. Light’s first numbered creation deserves far better than that.

Fortunately, we have other incarnations of the character to draw from. MM7 allowed players to use the Proto Shield as MegaMan, essentially allow him to block any shots from the front while standing still. MegaMan Powered Up, on the other hand, had a widely different playstyle from other incarnations.  He has a ludicrously high jump and is equipped with the Proto Strike, which is essentially a fully-charged shot on demand, though only one can be on-screen at a time – as opposed to the standard 3 bullets the standard Mega Buster allows for or ProtoMan’s own two shots in MM9 and 10. The Proto Shield also returned and much like MM7, it protected Blues from front-facing projectiles while standing still. It did have some slight mechanical differences though: powerful attacks would knock the shield away, forcing ProtoMan to recover it to continue using it. Of course, Blues also lacked the ability to slide and equip boss weapons in Powered Up. So perhaps finding a happy medium between his playstyles in MMPU and 9/10 would make DLN-000 a worthwhile addition to future games.

Better yet, maybe they could give ProtoMan another of his little brother’s discarded toys: my beloved Mega Arm from MegaMan (World) V. Couple that with variants on his Proto Coil and Jet that resemble the delightfully broken Rush Jet from MM3 and the controversial Neo Rush Coil from MM5 to add even more distinctive features from Rock.

Of course, when it comes to MegaMan’s siblings, I’d much rather see Roll return as a playable character in future games. While she’s more commonly associated with crossover fighting games like Marvel vs. Capcom and Tatsunoko vs. Capcom, Roll was also playable in Powered Up. Wielding her trusty broom, she almost came across as a Classic series interpretation of Zero – her broom did a significant amount of damage to make up for its lack of range. Maybe give her the standard buster she had in MvC2, as well as the ability to learn new “cleaning techniques” (like Zero in the X games) or even obtain new cleaning utensils by defeating bosses and Roll could be an interesting addition to future games. Though honestly, if they decide to include any additional characters, it would probably be a good idea to remix the stage layouts to accentuate each characters’ unique abilities in a satisfying way.

Personally, I’d also love to see the Endless Mode from MM9 & 10 make a return in future games. The upshot to 11 forgoing this mode is that Capcom could easily recycle stage segments from both 11 and 12 in a new Endless Mode, allowing for even more segments or even bosses to draw from when (and if) the mode finally makes a return.

Aesthetics

I mean, I’ve covered this in the previous Armchair Devs, so it only seems fair to go back to it again. Frankly, I think MM11 did a good job of updating the Blue Bomber’s look while keeping things faithful to the original concepts overall. Sure, there were a few minor issues, but things could’ve ended up significantly worse all things considered. The various problems 11 had regarding its presentation could easily be tightened up in a sequel. As such, when it comes to discussing the aesthetics of a potential MegaMan 12, I hope they keep what worked from the last game but also fix its issues, most of which I’ll detail below.

The 2.5D artstyle worked better than they had any right to… for the most part. From the very beginning, the Blue Bomber himself was ironically the major source of concern from the game’s debut, specifically his animations. While the final product certainly improved upon the janky motions seen in the first trailer, there’s still a noticeable difference in quality between Rock and some of the other major recurring characters (who generally only appear in cutscenes) compared to the Robot Masters, fortress bosses and even the standard enemies. Honestly, I think Dan Root’s video on the subject showcases the entire topic better than I could, so give it a watch if you have 15 minutes to spare. Granted, this is a pretty common trend in MegaMan games – even back in 1987, MegaMan’s graphics seemed a bit primitive compared to everything else in his debut – but considering that the model looked otherwise great, Capcom should definitely invest some time and energy into tightening up some of his animations.

Granted, I’m not asking for a direct 1:1 recreation of his poses and posture from the NES games. In fact, I think that would be the worst possible design choice for Capcom to make: people may have gushed over that in the latest Smash Bros. games, but frankly, I think it only works when you remember that every aspect of that incarnation is meant to completely ape the classic 8-bit style. When divorced from that context, MegaMan’s movement and posture doesn’t look so much robotic as uncomfortable. Now I’m not suggesting that Capcom goes back to the wild limb movement from 8’s walk cycle. But going for a more dynamic and bouncier animation style would be nice. More important is that Capcom needs to bring back the ability to jump through the boss gates. Now I know that the development staff has cited technical limitations on that front but come on. That’s MegaMan 101 right there. Make sure that works properly next time, guys. Aside from that, keep up the good work: I love the redesigns for the main cast, especially the fact that MegaMan alters his form when he equips boss weapons.

Of course, that doesn’t address the elephant in the room: the vocal contingent who want Classic MegaMan to return to his 8-bit roots yet again, even though an even louder group shrieked that it was a lazy choice when Capcom did it in the tenth game – yet was lauded as a brilliant throwback in MM9. All things considered, the backlash against 11 was far smaller than its predecessor, so I think the silent majority is fine with the direction the series has taken. If I were a little more foolish, I’d suggest offering multiple graphical options there, ala Dotemu’s remaster of Wonder Boy: The Dragon’s Trap, but I think we all know trying to shift between 2D and 3D is a lot more complex than just swapping between hand-drawn and pixelated 2D graphics. I guess the only legitimate suggestion would be to farm out an 8-bit spinoff to another company – mayhaps christen it as “MegaMan World VI”?

…what? You should know by now that I’ll be begging for that one for the rest of my days. And if it ever does, then I’ll start campaigning for MegaMan World VII and so on.

Next, we come to the sound design. Personally, I think Marika Suzuki did a good job when it came to MM11’s compositions. The major failing point was the instrumentation of the soundtrack itself. Everything just sounds a bit… cheap and lifeless. It’s not quite as bad as Sonic the Hedgehog 4: Episode 1, but if you understood that reference, then you should understand what I’m getting at. And that’s a damned shame: both the Wily Numbers Instrumental tracks that came with preorders of the game and the arranged versions of said themes from the Original Soundtrack prove that the actual compositions themselves definitely live up to the series’ musical history. As far as I can tell, people really liked the Stage Select and Gear Fortress Stage themes and they didn’t receive any official remixes or rearrangements. Just come up with a more vibrant set of instruments the next time around – maybe draw inspiration from Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3 or Street Fighter V’s soundtracks – and that should fix all the issues people had with MegaMan 11’s music.

Just as a quick aside, I really enjoyed the Wily Numbers Instrumental tracks and would love to see future games in the series attempt something similar. Maybe include some 8-bit NES-style demakes of MegaMan 12’s entire soundtrack or even aping the musical trademarks of MegaMan 7 or especially 8. Recreating the awesome sounds of the Complete Works rearrangements or the arrange albums from 9 and 10 would also be great. Even just attempting to recontextualize the MegaMan music into various musical genres like rock, techno or jazz would be appreciated. Just so long as Capcom includes a digital soundtrack with any of them if they decide to sell them as DLC, I’d totally buy them! Honestly, I’m still a bit sore that those preorder bonus tracks weren’t included on MM11’s soundtrack, but including new arrangements was a nice consolation prize.

The sound effects were good and personally, I liked the English dub. Sure, there was a vocal contingent against it, but at least Capcom decided to implement dual audio to keep them at bay. Even more baffling were the people who just hated the game having voice acting in general. I mean, it is possible to just turn down the volume on the voices all the way and remove them from the game, but I guess that involved pressing the D-Pad too many times for the truly hardcore. Maybe Capcom should just include three voice options next time: English, Japanese and None. In fact, circling back to my 8-bit arranged soundtrack idea, maybe a full-on 8-bit audio option – with its music composed on NES hardware, old sounds ripped straight from the first 6 games (and 9/10) and no voice acting whatsoever – would better suit this hardcore audience. Though if this audio setting were included in a new game, it should probably just be one of many presets. If that many options are present in a new game, I’d love to experiment with them and mix-and-match various audio outputs to see what works best for me.

As for the game’s presentation, it was a little on the cheap side, but I liked it. MegaMan 11 paid homage to its 8-bit roots, shifting between the pantomimed cutscenes that used the in-game graphics and static images. Though this time around, instead of 8-bit sprites, they had 3D models (with full voice acting!) and hand-drawn 2D images. Of course, it would’ve been nice if Capcom had used the 3D nature of MM11’s new graphics to their advantage, producing more dynamic poses and camera angles for the in-game segments. I’m sure most people would want fully-animated cutscenes in a future game, but unless Capcom decides to partner with an anime studio to produce an OVA or even an animated short, I don’t see that happening. The funny thing is, I wouldn’t be surprised if the people who bashed MegaMan 8’s presentation are also the ones demanding that the next game have hours of cutscenes attached to it.

Final Thoughts

There’s really little else to say at this point. I think Capcom already has a pretty good framework to base future games in the series on. In the end, it all comes down to how well MegaMan 11 did in the first place. I’m holding out hope that it did exceptionally well, especially considering the fact that MM11 producer Kazuhiro Tsuchiya has hinted that a new game in the series may enter pre-production this year. I’m just glad that the Blue Bomber – easily Capcom’s true mascot – is finally back in a big way.

But what do you think? Would you like to see a level pack sequel to MegaMan 11 or go back to his roots yet again with another 8-bit outing? Is there a benefit to Capcom constantly ping-ponging back and forth between retro and contemporary styles with every new game? Did you also dream last night that you held a sixth MegaMan World game in your arms? Feel free to sound off in the comments below.

Retronaissance’s Most Anticipated Games of 2019

SNES Master KI

It’s that time again, time to list the games I’m most looking forward to in the coming year. But first, let’s look back at 2018. 2018 was something of a breather year compared to how great 2017 was and how incredible 2019 looks, but for a breather year it was really good, even if my list once again had a low accuracy rating (congratulations to Guacamelee! 2 and Mega Man 11, though). Thankfully, games like God of War and Marvel’s Spider-Man that greatly exceeded my expectations, out of nowhere games like Celeste and The Messenger, and games announced during the year like Shadow of the Tomb Raider and Super Smash Bros. Ultimate gave it a solid showing. Still, 2019 looks set to blow it away (helped by so many of my anticipated games getting delayed into it). What’s so great about 2019? Well, let’s get to the list and let it explain for itself!

Honorable Mentions

Daemon ex Machina (Switch) – Probably the most unexpected game at Nintendo’s E3, Daemon ex Machina combines fast paced third person shooting action (I actually wondered if it was a Vanquish sequel during its reveal) and extensive mech customization. I’m not wild about the second part, but the core gameplay looks great and I’ll definitely be keeping my eye on this game.

Resident Evil 2 Remake (PS4/X1/PC) – After a long, long wait we finally have details and a release date for another major Resident Evil remake. As far as I can tell, this seems to have Resident Evil 4 mechanics with original-style RE resource limitations. Going to wait to see exactly how well the balancing works, but this game definitely has potential to be another notch on the Capcom revival belt.

Animal Crossing Switch (…guess.) – We know nothing about this game other than its existence, but it’s not like I let that keep games off lists. The only Animal Crossing I’ve played was the original NA release on the GameCube, but I enjoyed it and have been meaning to try one of the newer, online enabled ones. After procrastinating for years on New Leaf, I may finally take the plunge with the Switch version.

Okay, now for the main event:

10. Mortal Kombat 11

Publisher/Developer: Warner Bros Interactive Entertainment/NetherRealm Studios
Platform: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, PC
Release Date: April 23rd, 2019

I’m still in shock that this game is actually making it out in the first half of 2019, despite not being officially announced until December 2018. Mortal Kombat 9 pushed the series to new heights, and has earned main entries places on these lists. We don’t know much about the game, but we’re sure to get another story mode that encapsulates the MK mythos that caught my interest so many years ago, long before the gameplay was actually good. Now that we have both, MK11 should easily earn its place among the fairly small amount of fighters I play.

9. Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice

Publisher/Developer: Activision/From Software
Platform: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC
Release Date: March 22nd, 2019

I’ve said several times that I want a Saints Row to Dark Souls’ Grand Theft Auto, a similar game that fixes all my problems and imposes a new standard on the genre. Sekiro is the best contender in that area that I’ve seen so far, exchanging the WRPG micromanagment of the Souls games for pure tough-as-nails gameplay with a JUMP BUTTON! I don’t want to let my expectations get out of control, but if Sekiro lives up to its potential it could be a genre defining moment. And that new definition could be what I’ve wanted for years.

8. Luigi’s Mansion 3

Publisher/Developer: Nintendo
Platform: Switch
Release Date: 2019

While they aren’t Mario platformers (that was just cruel making the original fill in for one at launch), the Luigi’s Mansion games are both great and creative games that make full use of their vacuuming ghosts concept for puzzles and unique battles. We know very little about the third game, but the idea of a skyscraper-sized mansion sounds great and there’s no reason to think Nintendo won’t deliver with it. Luigi may be dreading his next starring role, but he’s just going to have to deal with it because we all want it.

7. Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night

Publisher/Developer: 505 Games/ArtPlay, DICO, WayForward
Platform: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, PC
Release Date: 2019

The first of many repeat appearances from last year’s list, Bloodstained may have been delayed a ridiculous amount (I want to say it was originally planned for 2016), but the 8-bit teaser game for it felt exactly like a lost Classicvania game. That has raised my confidence in the final game, if it can do for Symphony of the Night/16-bit Classicvanias what Curse of the Moon did for the 8-bit entries, then we’ve finally got a Kickstarter spiritual sequel that matches the series it is meant to replace. And since I don’t have faith in Konami to revive Castlevania within the next decade, we can’t afford another Mighty No. 9 situation. It’s your shot Igarashi, give us a replacement goldfish that would make Platinum proud.

6. Kingdom Hearts III

Publisher/Developer: Square Enix
Platform: PlayStation 4, Xbox One
Release Date: January 29th, 2019

This is another repeat from last year, but with how long this freaking game took to arrive, missing last year by a month seems barely worth mentioning. After an absurdly long wait (people born after the first KH came out can drive, people born after Kingdom Hearts 2 will be teenagers within a year), Kingdom Hearts III at least looks like it will deliver. Action-RPG combat has greatly evolved in the years since the last Kingdom Hearts, and KH3 seems to be running with that. If it pulls it off successfully, it could easily be the best game in the series. And no matter how it turns out, we pretty much have to buy it to see how the hilariously ridiculous and convoluted story ends.

5. Pokémon Generation 8

Publisher/Developer: Nintendo/Game Freak
Platform: Switch
Release Date: 2019

Yeah, we know nothing about this games except its release year and series, but dammit, Super Mario Switch was one of the few things my 2017 list got right. While I’m not into Pokemon enough to give it the number one spot (yes, I would be willing to make this number one if it was the right series), I still enjoy the franchise and am very interested to see where it goes for its first main series console release. There are endless questions and possibilities for this game, and that in itself builds excitement for it. Just don’t ask us to import hundreds of Pokémon from past games if we want to catch them, even with online trading, it’s getting overwhelming.

4. Bayonetta 3

Publisher/Developer: Nintendo/Platinum Games
Platform: Switch
Release Date: 2019?

Yep, I’m once again giving this game a spot despite not having any footage or a release year. But I feel more confident in it coming out in 2019 then I did for 2018, so it’s hard to justify removing it. The combination of Nintendo and Platinum is a fantastic one, and Bayonetta 3 should continue being a standard setter for character action games. So why isn’t it as high as last year? Well, back then I was really desperate for something to reignite the character action genre, and none of the potential games had much information to go on. If only there was one with lots of footage and a close release date…

3. Devil May Cry 5

Publisher/Developer: Capcom
Platform: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC
Release Date: March 8th, 2019

I’ve loved this series ever since the first game codified my second favorite genre, and I’ve followed it through the ups and downs. After the poorly received reboot left the series silent for half a decade, people were fearing the worst, but Capcom came back! With an interesting new looking new character who still fits in perfectly, the signature crazy action, and continued escalation of motorcycle use, Devil May Cry 5 looks like the sequel everyone wanted for the past decade, and could be the catalyst for a character action renaissance. With so many franchises that made drastic changes this generation, it feels great to get a long awaited direct sequel in DMC5. In just a few months, we’ll finally have a chance to pull that Devil Trigger again.

2. Yoshi’s Crafted World

Publisher/Developer: Nintendo/ Good Feel
Platform: Switch
Release Date: 2019

The last delayed game from last year’s list, this game looked even better when we finally got a new trailer after an information drought that lasted more than a year. My reasons for hyping this are the same as last year; after two decades of disappointing sequels to Yoshi’s Island, Good Feel hit it out of the park with Yoshi’s Wooly World and made a game that goes toe to toe with the legendary SNES game. Yoshi’s Crafted World looks like a direct sequel with some interesting new ideas (flipping to the other side of the stage, aiming eggs at the background) that should give it its own identity as well. And best of all, with Switch being region free, there is absolutely no chance of me having to wait because my region gets the game months after everywhere else for no freaking reason, as happened with Woolly World.

1. Doom Eternal

Publisher/Developer: Bethesda Softworks/id Software
Platform: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, PC
Release Date: 2019

In what I consider a bleak period for gaming, there were a few franchise revivals that broke through like the sun briefly appearing in gaps between dark clouds. The best of these was DOOM (2016), which I gave the highest praise possible for a sequel:it was to first person shooters what Super Mario Galaxy was to 3D platformers. After decades of FPSes getting more and more realistic and generic, DOOM 2016 reversed everything and made a fast-paced, huge enemy variety, no reloading action fest that found a brilliant solution to regenerating health that made the game faster instead of slower. I was praying for a sequel, and Doom Eternal is exactly what I wanted. More locations, more abilities and weapons, more enemies, better pacing of enemies throughout levels, just everything in general looking better than the game that redeemed the genre its series made me love (albeit kind of late, it happened in 2015). If this is the Super Mario Galaxy 2 (my favorite game of all time) of first person shooters, then we are in for one hell on Earth of a ride with Doom Eternal.

Dariwan

Another year older, another year wiser. 2018 has come and gone and has given us a lot of games that I can’t even fathom the greatness or even have enough time to play them all. Some of the games that I thought would be great this year flopped but most of them are amazing still. There were even games I didn’t even think would come out (Smash Ultimate, for one) this year that amazed me. Well as this year is ending, let’s see what’s coming out in 2019 that will hopefully wow me in the future as 2018 did for me!

Honorable Mentions

Cyberpunk 2077 (PS4/XBO/PC)– I like these kind of games, and I like the company. But I don’t know if it’s worth throwing out the money for it. It looked really good at E3. I’ll have to see what comes of it.

Dead or Alive 6 (PS4/XBO/PC) – This game has had controversy since its announcement. With the developers saying they’re going to censor the sexual nature that the game has become known for in the past and the fan base revolting over this, I don’t know if this game is gonna be any good, unless they make some big changes.

Wargroove (PS4/Switch/XBO/PC) – My teenage years were mostly spent emulating GBA games. I accidentally found Advance Wars while looking for Tactics Ogre and ended up liking it. Also, one of my favorite games on GBA was Fire Emblem with Lyn. I think this game is trying to bring that back and I think that’s a good thing. Will I buy and/or play it? Time will tell. Looks fun and a trip back to nostalgia for me though.

Mortal Kombat 11 (PS4/Switch/XBO/PC) – This game was just announced at The Game Awards as well. I kind of care about Mortal Kombat but it’s not exactly my favorite fighting game series, so I’ll throw this on my honorable mentions for now and we’ll see if it changes.

10. Indivisible

Publisher/Developer: 505 Games/Lab Zero Games
Platform: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, PC
Release Date: 2019

The game from the same company that gave us Skullgirls (Lab Zero) comes back again with an action-RPG type game that still sorta interests me. The gameplay is appealing, even if it’s been overly copied and possibly even stolen. I think I only still care about this game because I backed this game over 4 years ago and I want what I paid for. But hey.

9. Jump Force

Publisher/Developer: Bandai Namco/Spike Chunsoft
Platform: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC
Release Date: February 15, 2019

This game is interesting to me because it’s another attempt by Shonen Jump to make a fighting game including many fighters that people don’t really get, like the guy from City Hunter who has guns, or Yugi Moto from Yu-Gi-Oh! They have fan favorites like Goku and Vegeta from Dragon Ball Z, Yusuke from Yu Yu Hakusho, Gon from Hunter x Hunter, and Kenshin from Ruroni Kenshin, as well as people from the new generation like Asta from Black Clover and many more. I hope this game does well because I love Shonen Jump characters and using them in fighting games and I want them to make more of these games in the future.

8. Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night

Publisher/Developer: 505 Games/ArtPlay, DICO, WayForward
Platform: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, PC
Release Date: 2019

As I’ve only played very little of one Castlevania game in my life (Aria of Sorrow), I really don’t have the history or the nostalgia that most people who care about this game have. But this game still looks fun and I feel like it’ll be a great game to play in 2019.

7. Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3: The Black Order

Publisher/Developer: Nintendo/Team Ninja
Platform: Nintendo Switch
Release Date: 2019

This game was a shock to me when I saw it get announced at The Game Awards. I loved the first game and played the first game to death and almost 100%ed it. The second one wasn’t as great but it had my favorite characters so I stomached it. I’m not exactly a fan of the fact that it’s Avengers & Wolverine (who was himself an Avenger at a time) fighting Thanos and his cronies but I hope to hear more about this game that’ll excite me in the future.

6. Samurai Shodown

Publisher/Developer: SNK
Platform: PlayStation 4, Nintendo Switch, Xbox One, PC
Release Date: Q2 2019

I hate the name but I love the game.

This is another series I grew up with and loved. Even though my main experiences with it was in the arcade and this one didn’t follow me on console like a few other fighting game titles, I still enjoy this series and it reinforced my love of samurai and swords to this day. Great-looking graphics and a return to the blood and gore that I remember and love is gonna make me happy, especially since I skipped Soulcalibur VI this year and that was another series I loved and grew up with.

5. Bayonetta 3

Publisher/Developer: Nintendo/Platinum Games
Platform: Nintendo Switch
Release Date: TBA

While this one may not come out in 2019, I might as well start it on the list here so I can just keep adding it until it comes out. I loved Bayonetta’s setting and themes since the first one and I’ve bought this on 3 different systems (PS3, Wii U and now Switch for the first 2) and now I hopefully only have to buy this one on one system and enjoy it this time!

4. Travis Strikes Again: No More Heroes

Publisher/Developer: Marvelous Entertainment/Grasshopper Manufacture
Platform: Nintendo Switch
Release Date: January 18, 2019

I loved the No More Heroes games. It was one of the best impluse buys I ever made when it comes to Wii games. I loved the gameplay, I loved the vibe of the main character and the series in general and killing assassins just felt so good… This game looks great and even though it’s a small departure from the series that I know and love, I hope that Suda51 is still going to give me a great game to play!

3. Fire Emblem: Three Houses

Publisher/Developer: Nintendo/Intelligent Systems
Platform: Nintendo Switch
Release Date: Q2 2019

I’ve only gotten into the Fire Emblem series on the Game Boy Advance, but I’ve fallen in love with the battle system, the characters, the battles, everything. Fire Emblem Awakening was great, but I’ve yet to experience this wonderful series on console yet. In comes Three Houses: the first Switch Fire Emblem game is gonna be great and I can’t wait to experience a traditional Fire Emblem experience on console!

2. Devil May Cry 5

Publisher/Developer: Capcom
Platform: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC
Release Date: March 8, 2019

I’ve been meaning to play these games for years. I also bought the first 3 games of this like Bayonetta on 3 different consoles (PS2, PS3 and PS4) and on the third try I’ve finally beat the first 2 games, on my way of beating the third and finally got the fourth! I hope I can beat all 4 before the fifth game comes out. This game looks amazing and I can’t wait to play it. Fighting with crazy stuff like motorcycles and different other weapons make this game exciting. Also, the mysteriously interesting character V is very interesting to me. I like his style. Can’t wait to play this in March!

1. Kingdom Hearts III

Publisher/Developer: Square Enix
Platform: PlayStation 4, Xbox One
Release Date: January 29, 2019

I’ve been waiting for this game for way too long. Sora’s journey will finally end with a great roar and it’s been a long wait. I cannot wait to play this game. The worlds are better than ever and the battle system I hope is as good as Birth by Sleep and KH2. They’ve had enough time for this game to be as perfect as it can be and it’s looking to be just that. I hope this game ends this storyline with the best ending and the next storyline is better than this one, even though this one will be hard to top, but it at least will hopefully make more sense to the general populace. I cannot wait for this game.

That’s my list for 2019. I hope none of these flop like last year (looking at you, Vampyr!) and that this coming year is as great for gaming as it hopefully will for everything else!

Johnny Bacon

Hello gang, you’ll have to forgive ol’ Bacon here for any case of brevity.  My eyewear is out of date and I can barely see what I am typing.   Without further delay, welcome to Bacon’s Top Ten Anticipated Games of 2019!

In no specific order:

10. Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3: The Black Order

Publisher/Developer: Nintendo/Team Ninja
Platform: Nintendo Switch
Release Date: 2019

With the death of my favorite game, Marvel Heroes in 2017, I have had short few instances where I can just run around and be dumb as a super hero.  With Spider-Man, I could swing around and have hijinks. But it wasn’t the same. Maybe that itch just might be scratched next year when this game is released: after all, MH takes the gameplay model from Ultimate Alliance, so here’s hoping!

9. Onimusha: Warlords

Publisher/Developer: Capcom
Platform: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, PC
Release Date: January 15, 2019

Hoo nelly! I’m wanting to play this.  It’s been over a decade since the last game was out, and though it left much to be desired, it was still fun for the large part.  I’m expecting great things from this.  I’m awfully curious about how they’ll update the gameplay for the modern game.

8. Kingdom Hearts III

Publisher/Developer: Square Enix
Platform: PlayStation 4, Xbox One
Release Date: January 29, 2019

God Almighty, this series is a train wreck story-wise but I am (and have always been) addicted to its gameplay.  And this installment’s gameplay looks to be the best in the series.  I might even get enjoyment from killing all of the time travel mind clones.

7. Days Gone

Publisher/Developer: Sony Interactive Entertainment
Platform: PlayStation 4
Release Date: April 26, 2019

Now Uncle Icepick may have words against this, as he’s a bit of a snob against RPGs. (Editor’s note: he’s not wrong, people. – Ice.) But I, for one, am looking forward to this.  A nifty blend of modern/futuristic military settings and turn-based mechanics.  Looks fun to me!

6. Crash Team Racing Nitro-Fueled

Publisher/Developer: Activision/Beenox
Platform: PlayStation 4, Nintendo Switch, Xbox One
Release Date: June 21, 2019

Man, before Mario Kart 8, there were only a few kart racers that folks could just jump into and have an insane amount of joy in: Mario Kart Double Dash, Sonic and All Stars Racing Transformed, and of course Crash Team Racing.  A trifecta of kart racers, though obviously a bit skewed in Nintendo’s favor.

5. Battletoads

Publisher/Developer: Microsoft/DLaLa Studios, Rare
Platform: Xbox One, PC
Release Date: TBA 2019

Aw man, I could squee! A modern new-fangled, hard-as-nails, insane-o, balls to the wall, actual factual Battletoads! I do hope they keep some of the British-styled humor from Rare games past, it was always something that amused me.

4. Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice

Publisher/Developer: Activision/From Software
Platform: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC
Release Date: March 22nd, 2019

The latest game from From Software.  It looks to be another Souls-type game but with more traditional action game flair, like platforming and such.  I’m awfully curious how it will turn out, as normally I am not interested in playing these but boy howdy, this one sure is pretty.

3. Indivisible

Publisher/Developer: 505 Games/Lab Zero Games
Platform: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, PC
Release Date: 2019

This game looks like a hoot.  The handcrafted animated characters from the guys who brought us Skullgirls with the gameplay straight out of Valkyrie Profile.  I backed this on Indiegogo some time ago and am really looking forward to finally getting my hands on it.

2. Luigi’s Mansion 3

Publisher/Developer: Nintendo
Platform: Switch
Release Date: 2019

Little is known about this one so far but hot damn. If it’s as good as the last two, then it’s going to be stellar.

1. Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night

Publisher/Developer: 505 Games/ArtPlay, DICO, WayForward
Platform: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, PC
Release Date: 2019

The return of IGAvania proper.  This particular brand of ‘Vania has been gone so long, it will be a triumphant return indeed.  Hollow Knight may have spoiled me in recent times, so I fear I won’t enjoy this as much as that, but I’m still gonna play the hell out of it.

Professor Icepick

While 2018 didn’t quite live up to the previous year in terms of releases, I’d say we got some good games. 2019, however, looks like it’s going to be even better. I honestly tried putting off writing this list for as long as possible, just because there was a part of me expecting one last big announcement that would shake up the entire structure of the list. Fortunately, it looks like everything’s stable now, but I’m not expecting this list to remain intact once 2019 is actually upon us. Have to give a quick mention to Luigi’s Mansion 3, which very nearly made the honorable mentions until one last-minute announcement managed to take place.

Honorable Mentions

Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night (PC/Switch/PS4/XBO) Bloodstained only manages an honorable mention this year – I’d even considered moving it to my “Dishonorable Mentions” simply to open up another slot on here. In the end, they’ve only really missed one “definite” release date, so I can’t punish them quite yet. The real reason Ritual of the Night has fallen to a mere honorable mention is because Bloodstained has been its own worst enemy. This year’s Curse of the Moon scratched that itch and delivered the “Classicvania” experience I’d been waiting for since I backed the main game back in 2015. Sure, RotN is apparently also going to have a Classic mode, but the meat of the game is going to be a Metroidvania.

Ys IX: Monstrum Nox (PS4) I mean, I haven’t played Lacrimosa of Dana just yet and it’s unlikely we’ll see an English release of Ys IX until 2020 at the earliest. But damnit, it’s a new Ys game and that’s what counts! Let’s just hope whoever localizes this one doesn’t botch the PC release this time.

AWAY: Journey to the Unexpected (PC/Switch/PS4/XBO) A unique first-person action-RPG with an anime-inspired aesthetic. I fell in love with this game’s entire concept back when I saw it for the first time back in 2017. Now that the game’s finally wrapping up development, I can’t wait to play it.

Devil May Cry 5 (PC/PS4/XBO) I’ve come around to the DMC franchise lately, having played through the HD Collection on livestream late in the year. Also, “crazy cowboy hobo uncle Boomer” Dante is easily the best iteration of the character ever. But I still need to catch up on two more games before I’ll be ready to give DMC5 my full attention. Yes, that includes DmC – we’re so far past from the initial controversy that I’ve got to at least give it a chance.

Judgment (PS4) This looks like an awesome new take on the Yakuza engine. But what I’m really waiting for is a PC port.

Dishonorable Mention

Toejam and Earl: Back in the Groove (PC/PS4/XBO/Switch) Two straight misses and you make it on here. I know TJaE’s had a troubled development, but that’s my criteria. On the plus side, 2019 has so many big upcoming titles, this is the only way Back in the Groove was going to make it onto this year’s list. So…if anything, I’m rewarding it for screwing up? That doesn’t seem right. Oh well, life’s not fair.

10. Catherine: Full Body

Publisher/Developer: Atlus
Platform: PlayStation 4, PlayStation Vita (?)
Release Date: “2019”

While the Japanese release is planned to hit on Valentines’ Day next year, we still don’t have much info on any Western releases, aside from the fact that they’re set to hit sometime the same year. Catherine was one of my favorite games of last gen and considering this release is set to offer an expanded storyline and more stages that the original PS360 release, what can I say? I do hope that Atlus finally decides to capitulate to their parent company Sega’s plans to embrace PC gaming – especially given Atlus USA’s reluctance to confirm just which platforms we can expect to see represented in the Western release – but until I receive news of a PC version, this game can only aspire to bottom out the main list at best.

9. Yoshi’s Crafted World

Publisher/Developer: Nintendo/Good-Feel
Platform: Nintendo Switch
Release Date: 2019

Well, this game didn’t quite hit last year as I expected… but at least now, we have a name for it. Like I said, I’m mainly looking forward to this one because of just how much I liked its predecessor. Unfortunately, while we’ve seen more of the game than we did when it was first revealed in 2017, there were times where I actually forgot about the game’s existence. That’s just not a good sign.

8. Travis Strikes Again: No More Heroes

Publisher/Developer: Marvelous Entertainment/Grasshopper Manufacture
Platform: Nintendo Switch
Release Date: January 18, 2019

That’s right, two – count ‘em two – two repeats in a row. While Yoshi’s Crafted World was higher than Travis Strikes Again last year, I’ve got to give the edge to the No More Heroes spinoff, simply because it actually has a release date… and an early one at that. We’ve even got some new footage recently which put the game back on my radar. The only thing that really weighs the game down in my opinion was when Suda 51 recently said that he was working on a treatment for a “true” NMH3, which would only come to fruition if Travis Strikes Again sells well. I don’t appreciate blackmail of any stripe.

7. Samurai Shodown (2019)

Publisher/Developer: SNK
Platform: PC, PlayStation 4, Nintendo Switch, Xbox One
Release Date: Q2 2019

I’m not going to lie, when it comes to SNK’s fighting game franchises – hell, even when it comes to all their franchises overall – Samurai Shodown is pretty low on my list. I know, that’s blasphemy. So, I wasn’t exactly excited about the outright inevitability of a new SamSho game when SNK began sharing the fruits of their Chinese-funded labor. But the good thing about SNK is that they always seem to go out of their way to try putting a smile on my face. With a slick art style that reminds me of Capcom’s calligraphy-heavy Street Fighter IV, a teased roster chockful of classic characters (but missing my girl Cham Cham) and the recent announcement that the game would be releasing on all four major platforms – along with an all-but-expected announcement that The King of Fighters XV would be releasing sooner than we expected in 2020 – has done more than enough to put a smile on my face. But SNK, please: give us Garou: Mark of the Wolves 2 soon – arthritis runs in my family and I’d like to enjoy it at full strength.

6. Doom Eternal

Publisher/Developer: Bethesda/id Software
Platform: PC, Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, Xbox One
Release Date: “2019”

Truth be told, “Doom 2016” was one of the best games I played in 2017 – just roll with it. So, I’d been hoping for a sequel for quite some time and Bethesda managed to promise one at this year’s E3. While the debut trailer was a bit lackluster, we’ve gotten a lot more information since then and I’ve got to say that I like what I saw. Despite my concerns that a new game might just be a cheap cash-in, this one looks great with the addition of new enemies and a grappling hook mechanic, as well as some humor that really rubbed me the right way. Bethesda still maintains that the game will be dropping in 2019, though they haven’t really elaborated on that point.

Honestly, Doom Eternal would’ve probably have been higher on my list if not for two major concerns I have about the game. First off, one major addition to the game that Bethesda has been pushing is their “Invasion” mode which allows players to take on the roles of demons and hunt down other players in their own single-player campaign, Dark Souls-style. While I’ve seen sources claim that this is an optional feature, actually hearing Bethesda themselves outright confirm that is what I’ve been waiting for. My other issue is probably just speculation at this point, but all too likely. Recently, Bethesda made RAGE 2 – another id Software title – into an exclusive on their own launcher. Considering the fact that Fallout 76 had a lot of technical issues, ranging from the hilarity of not allowing people who downloaded the beta to uninstall it unless they bought the full version to the downright terrifying fact that they (hopefully) inadvertently leaked customer names and addresses. So, for the love of God, Bethesda: I don’t care if it’s Steam, GOG, Discord or even that new Epic Games Store I have an irrational hatred of, release Doom Eternal’s PC version on something besides your buggy launcher.

5. Kaze and the Wild Masks

Publisher/Developer: Vox Game Studio
Platform: PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One
Release Date: “Early 2019”

If there’s one game that would get me to immediately go out and buy a Switch, it would be “Donkey Kong Country Returns 3” – a game that I’d anticipate as the conclusion to Retro’s trilogy. Since that has still yet to be announced, Kaze and the Wild Masks will just have to do. A mascot platformer that borrows liberally from the Donkey Kong Country games of old, as well as other games from that era, Kaze and the Wild Masks looks like it’s set to be the kind of homage to Rareware’s 16-bit opus that Freedom Planet was to Sonic the Hedgehog’s halcyon days. If there’s any flaw I’d say the game has, it’s that it looks like it borrows a little too much from both iterations of Donkey Kong Country, at least as far as the trailers are concerned. But hopefully, it’ll manage to carve its own niche when it comes out sometime next year.

4. Mortal Kombat 11

Publisher/Developer: WB Games/NetherRealm Studios
Platform: PC, Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, Xbox One
Release Date: April 23, 2019

Well, this certainly came out of nowhere. After a few false starts this year, most NetherRealm fans were willing to accept that the cycle had been broken but then an announcement trailer came out of nowhere at The Game Awards. As with MKX, it contained amazing visuals paired with less than stellar music – but let’s be honest: there are probably no less than a dozen edits on YouTube that replaced it with “Techno Syndrome (Mortal Kombat)” by The Immortals. I’m not sure what this game will be packing in terms of content, but what little we know sounds great. The most important things I know are that WB Games is planning on launching the game on all 4 platforms – even Switch! – simultaneously and that QLOC will be handling the PC version. I’m just hoping those rumors about Johnny Cage and Kano’s exclusion end up being just that, rumors.

3. Shovel Knight: King of Cards

Publisher/Developer: Yacht Club Games
Platform: PC, Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, Xbox One (et al.)
Release Date: April 9, 2019

Originally formally announced back in August 2017, King of Cards (and the multiplayer expansion “Shovel Knight Showdown”, set to launch simultaneously with KoC) is set to finally mark the end of Yacht Club Games’ support of the original Shovel Knight. I remember back when I funded the game simply because the developer had spun off from WayForward, one of my favorite indie developers. While Shovel Knight has given me years of fun, I’m excited to find out just what Yacht Club has in store for us next, but before that we’ve got an expansion that is poised to be even more of a change from the base game than Specter of Torment, the previous expansion.

Apparently taking a few cues from Super Mario World, King of Cards is set to offer players the chance to play as King Knight, a character I ranked at the bottom when voting for Shovel Knight’s expansions. His gameplay is substantially flashier than the previous character, even sporting a familiar spin jump. KoC also changes up the format, challenging players to best over 30 courses across 4 different worlds to become make sure the gilded goon becomes the one true king. I just hope it doesn’t get pushed back again…

2. Freedom Planet 2

Publisher/Developer: GalaxyTrail
Platform: PC (maybe more?)
Release Date: Spring/Summer 2019

If anything, I’m kind of surprised that FP2 ended up taking the #2 slot two years in a row. You’d think that if I were being even remotely consistent, it should be down near the bottom of the list with Yoshi and Travis. If this list weren’t about my preferences, it probably would’ve been. But alas, the heart wants what it wants, and my heart wants a damn sequel to Freedom Planet as soon as possible. We did recently get another update regarding the game, claiming that we can expect 24 stages across four playable characters, so it’s essentially the first game, only bigger. Which is exactly what I wanted in the first place. Still no word on any console versions but considering that the fact that the original game hit Switch this past August, I wouldn’t be surprised if it and the PS4 received the game at some point.

1. Cuphead: The Delicious Last Course

Publisher/Developer: Studio MDHR
Platform: PC, Xbox One
Release Date: 2019

It really couldn’t have been anything else. Cuphead was probably my favorite game of 2017 and when Studio MDHR announced an expansion for the game at the Xbox conference this past E3, I legitimately considered calling the entire event for Microsoft right then and there – that’s how strongly I felt about this announcement. The only information we really have on The Delicious Last Course (clever title) is that it will be adding the instantly popular Ms. Chalice as a brand-new playable character and a new isle’s worth of content – or in layman’s terms, a third of the original game’s content – with new bosses, weapons and charms. While that’s the only concrete information we have about Cuphead: DLC, that’s really all I need to get that excited for it. Cuphead is one of those rare 2D games that looks as good as it plays and frankly, a “Cuphead 1.5” is exactly what I need to keep me satisfied until a legitimate sequel shows up. Granted, that probably won’t surface for years, simply due to just how much effort it takes to properly craft the game’s trademark old-school animated aesthetic.

And those are my picks for 2019’s upcoming releases, at least the ones that have been announced thus far. The truth is, I ended up leaving an unprecedented number of contenders off of this list – almost enough to make another full top 10 list on its own and that’s without the honorable mentions. And who knows? Maybe my favorite game of 2019 hasn’t even been announced yet!


But what do you think? Do you agree with our picks for the hottest games of 2019? Or did we leave off some of your most-anticipated games of next year? Feel free to sound off in the comments below.

Console Ceasefire

Throughout the history of gaming, console wars have been a constant. Sony versus Microsoft, Nintendo versus Sega, some company’s Pong clone versus some other company’s Pong clone. While people have always argued that gamers have no reason to get involved in contests between corporations, the simple fact is that people are going to get invested in their systems to some extent. If a company and/or their system gives you your favorite games, your favorite gaming related memories, some sense of loyalty is going to develop. I haven’t refused to play non-Nintendo systems since I was a preteen, but it always felt good when they were selling the most, and I hoped it would happen.

Until now.

No, this isn’t some kind of loyalty switch (no pun intended this time, I didn’t capitalize it, those are the rules), I’ve just come to a realization. When it comes to Switch vs. PlayStation 4, I simply don’t care which one sells more. If I was asked to simply choose which sold more I’d probably go with Switch, but other than that I really don’t have a notable preference.

01

Yeah, that would be nice, I guess.

Now this may sound like depressing apathy, but it’s actually the complete opposite. For several years things didn’t feel right in gaming, after 2013’s phenomenal game releases but grim future prospects, things went downhill fast. While Wii U floundered as though it had a curse placed upon it, PlayStation 4 and the platforms sharing most of its lineup went through a painful new generation slump. It felt like I could choose a system with a good present but imminent death coming, or one with few releases that I would just have to hope eventually overcame its slump. I’m not saying there weren’t good or even fantastic games released during this period (Donkey Kong Country Tropical Freeze, Yoshi’s Wooly World, DOOM 2016, Shantae and the Pirate’s Curse), but for me at least, they were far fewer in number than the feast I enjoyed in the second half of the seventh generation. This came to a head in 2016 when Nintendo basically vanished for the second half of the year while still releasing mobile games and the PS4 Pro and Xbox One X made me anxious about the future of console gaming as a whole.

Then the light came back. All at the same time, the Switch brought Nintendo back in the same phoenix-like manner as the original Wii, developers got over their beginning of the generation slump, and Japanese developers even made a comeback (I always knew you’d find your way home, Capcom). The gloom and negativity disappeared (as much as they can from the internet, at least) and we entered what I consider the good part of the eighth generation. My systems of choice (Switch and PlayStation 4, as is probably obvious) were and are both selling fantastically. PS4 is obviously well ahead in total sales due to releasing three and a half year before Switch, but can Switch catch up? Will PS5’s release cut off PS4 and allow Switch to take the crown? Should we just compare Switch to the eventual PS5 and say it’s already dominating its generation? I have one simple answer:

03

What could it be?

Who the hell cares?

Yes, I really, genuinely don’t care what the best selling system of the eighth generation is, and there are a couple of core reasons for that. One is what I’ve been discussing, I’m just happy systems and gaming in general are doing well after one of the bleakest periods for game releases that I can remember. After years of hearing that Nintendo is doomed (for real this time!), the AAA market is and always will be crap, and Japan is irrelevant, it seems extraordinarily petty to deeply care whether Nintendo gets to take that number one spot for internet bragging points. There are more important things to worry about, even within gaming, than who gets to claim the title of market leader.

The second core reason is that Nintendo has been almost completely desynced from everyone else. As a result of Wii U’s market failure (as said before, I blame Luigi), Nintendo was forced to release a new system mid-generation. Now this has been done before, but this is the first time I can think of where it worked. The Switch rebottled the lightning caught by the original Wii, and in a more sustainable way. The anti-motion control backlash may not have been justified, but it clearly happened. However, I don’t see portability meeting the same fate, for obvious reasons (just kidding, leaving home is a dying fad). Nintendo making a successful mid-gen replacement has thrown a wrench into the standard release sequence of the past few generations, where all of the surviving systems launch within roughly a year of each other. By the time we can declare a definite winner between Switch and PS4, PS4 will likely be long retired, so what’s the point in hyping up the contest?

Nintendo also broke convention with the Switch’s very nature. As a console/handheld hybrid, it has likely ended Nintendo’s pattern of releasing one of each every generation (no Nintendo, those ports on 3DS haven’t convinced me it’s not being replaced by Switch, let the system retire with dignity already). So can we even compare it directly to other systems that are solely consoles? While I personally think we probably can, it is up for debate in a way that it never was before. Whether Switch and PS4 are even competitors is a valid question.

04

The best 8th or 9th gen console or handheld you will or won’t find.

So for these reasons, I think it’s time for a console ceasefire, at least as far as Nintendo is concerned. I realize that an article about peace between consoles that pretty much ignores the Microsoft Xbox may seem hypocritical, but this isn’t being done out of malice. I don’t currently own an Xbox One (but I plan to eventually, there are several games I want that I can only play on it), so it was a lot easier for me to use the active systems I own as reference points. Xbox One and Switch (or even Steam and Switch) make a similarly effective combination compared to PlayStation 4 and Switch, and I’d love for those to be included in the console ceasefire agreement. I’ll see you next time, and I encourage you to wish for peace between consoles this Christmas. We all have to be united against our real enemies: PC and mobile. Yes, I’m kidding… mostly.

02

I haven’t forgotten, someday I will play this.

Mega Menagerie

When I first came up with this concept, I’d originally intended to post it on my sideblog – it seemed like a nice, simple way to pay homage to the end of the Blue Bomber’s 30th anniversary festivities (and usher in the start of the Blue Bummer’s 25th birthday) while itching that pathological itch I seem to have for wishlists. In fact, my original plan was to use that X9 pitch article to cap off my own personal celebration of MegaMan, but I decided I’d rather attempt beating Capcom to the punch, so I moved it up a month. That just left the question how to finish things off. After all, the X retrospective ended up being two articles, although they’re probably about as long as the 4 Classic Retrospective segments put together (if not longer). Still, I wanted to do something special for this unique occasion, bridging the gap between important anniversaries for the first two MegaMan series.

So, if I was so worried about Capcom beating me to the punch with X9 speculation, what topic of similar importance is left to tackle? Well, last December, before Capcom announced MM11 in the first place, they also announced that they would be re-releasing the eight mainline MegaMan X games on just about everything – PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC and the Switch. That was it, no other details: no mention as to how they would be handling it, no clear footage of the project in progress, just the announcement and various staff members discussing their favorite moments in the X games. Maybe Capcom will make a similar announcement sometime soon. Maybe they already have. The point is that if they do, chances are there will be plenty of wiggle room for speculation.

That’s where I come in. You know by now that I’m a wishlist fiend, so I’ve got a variety of pitches for just how I’m hoping Capcom does the next time they decide to take a stroll down memory lane with the MegaMan franchise. I’ll be breaking things down, one hypothetical collection at a time: starting with the games, explaining why I chose to break things down in certain ways, my guess at potential pricing, various enhancements and other special features I’d like to see included and topping it off with two scores – one for how likely I think it would be for Capcom to go with this breakdown and one explaining just how much I want it to happen – and my reasoning behind them. I will be trying to keep things realistic, using Capcom’s current lines of compilations and re-releases (MegaMan or otherwise) into consideration, so I can avoid asking for things like 12 games in a $20 collection. And with all that exposition out of the way, let’s get into the actual lists. Continue reading