Rising Fun: Dawn for Japanese Games

The second half of the 80s and entirety of the 90s were a golden age for Japanese games.  From the moment Super Mario Bros. revived the American console industry, Japanese games absolutely dominated consoles.  While there were some exceptions, the vast, vast majority of good console games came from Japan during the third, fourth, and fifth generations.  Even the most prominent exceptions were made by western developers that were working with Japanese companies: Naughty Dog, Insomniac, and of course Rare.  Things started to change in the sixth generation, games like Halo, Grand Theft Auto 3, and the rising Tony Hawk series were critical and commercial successes, something very few western console games had achieved before that point.  Japanese games were probably still bigger or at least equal at that point, but it definitely wasn’t the absurd level of domination they previously held.  This was, of course, a good thing: there’s no reason for one country to dominate the way Japan did at one point.

 

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And thus Japan conquered console gaming overnight.

 

In the seventh and eighth generations, however, things started to become unbalanced in the other direction.  Several Japanese companies went into slumps at the same time, while western mega-publishers increased their dominance.  This led to an attitude in the 2010s that Japan was becoming irrelevant to the gaming industry.  I was not happy about this, but it would be fair to ask why when I was fine with how things were in the 90s.  Well, I have a few reasons.  For one, there was a fair amount of nationalistic gloating, treating this as “revenge” and calling the Japanese gaming industry a failure for not being able to match the combined output of two continents.  There’s also the fact that the fading Japanese companies had made so many great games in the past, and losing something is a lot more painful than never having it to begin with.  And while this may be too subjective and in the moment to use as a reason, I would much rather have 90s Capcom, Konami, and Squaresoft as the dominant publishers instead of companies like EA, Ubisoft, and Activision.  I’m not saying we need to go back to Japanese dominance, but all game producing regions making great games is the optimal situation and always will be.  I just want Japanese games to make a comeback for their own sake.

 

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Market Combat Evolving.

 

That seems to be what’s happening.  After many years of turmoil, Japanese-developed games are making a substantial comeback in 2017, in both the released and upcoming categories.  This year we’ve already seen Resident Evil 7, Yakuza 0, Gravity Rush 2, Nier Automata, Nioh, and Persona 5; quality releases that have mostly seen a good deal of commercial success and attention from the gaming community.  Looking ahead, we have Sonic Forces, Tekken 7, Tokyo Xanadu, Ys VIII, and Marvel vs Capcom: Infinite as some promising 2017 releases.   Compared to the past few years, this is a huge upturn in quality Japanese games.

Going beyond a simple games list, many of these games represent once mighty Japanese publishers and developers showing signs of recovering from their slumps.  Capcom finally made a Resident Evil that was well received, Team Ninja made their first well liked game in who knows how long with Nioh, Sega has two promising Sonic games coming out this year (although one is technically by western developers) – there are decades that would kill for that amount – and Square Enix has brought an underrated series into mainstream success while giving Platinum a chance to shine simultaneously with Nier: Automata.  Series that never had a huge western presence, such as Persona, Ys, Yakuza, and the aforementioned Nier/Drakengard also seem to be getting more attention than they previously did, which is great for the Japanese gaming industry.  The light of dawn may be starting to break through the cynicism that has clouded the concept of Japanese games in recent years.

 

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Looks like JRPGs don’t have cooties anymore.

 

There are two major Japanese publishers I consciously avoided mentioning up until this point.  One of them is a hugely conspicuous absence considering who is writing this article.  Why have I waited until now to say anything about Nintendo?  Because I like building things up before playing my strongest card.  Nintendo is in their own league among developers, and I’m don’t mean because they’re my favorite, their situation as the primary developer for their systems puts them in a very different position than the third parties I’ve covered.  Nintendo has always been prominent as a software publisher, even during the Wii U days their games sold millions with absurdly high attach rates that annihilated the best selling games of other systems with a low userbase.  However, Nintendo’s health is often measured by their console’s sales, and that has certainly not been going well in recent years.

Then it was like someone simply flipped a Switch.  Seeing what happened when they tried to copy their competitors with the Wii U, the Nintendo Switch is showing all indications that it recaptured the lightning bottled by the original Wii.  With the system selling out every shipment it makes almost instantly (and this is in March and April) and a non-pack in game managing to attain an unprecedented over 100% attach rate in at least one region, we have plenty of reason to believe that Nintendo’s console division is back on track.  And they’re definitely contributing to Japanese games making a resurgence in 2017.  This year we have or are scheduled to get The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, ARMS, Splatoon 2, Xenoblade 2, Fire Emblem Warriors and the game that means so much to me it was my most anticipated game of 2017 based on a six second “tech demo”, Super Mario Odyssey.  Breath of the Wild, the only one released so far, is one of the highest rated games of all time and would single handedly make this a better year for Japanese game reception than some of the last few.  Nintendo is back, and they’re ready to lead the charge in the Japanese game resurgence.

 

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Mario is back, and he’s not alone.

 

And what was that other company I avoided mentioning?  Well, it’s one that’s pretty easy to ignore, if the bitterness doesn’t get you, at least.  Konami, tormentor of employees, bane of Kojima, the Japanese EA.  No other Japanese publisher fell as far as Konami, but even with them, there is a glimmer of light this year.  Super Bomberman R is one of the more prominent Switch launch games that isn’t Zelda, and has been selling amazingly well for such a niche game.  Konami has publicly announced plans to revive more dormant franchises, as opposed to fleeing video games to make pachinko machines.  The slightest bit of hope for Konami is a miraculous step forward at this point.

 

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This game existing at all is a frigging miracle.

 

So, with the games released and announced in 2017, I think it’s safe to say that the sun is rising again for Japanese games.  Again, I’m not asking for western console games to go back to their dark age.  While I generally prefer Japanese design philosophy, western developers (many of whom grew up with games from Japan’s golden age) are perfectly capable of using it, and both sides can learn things from the other’s games.  Gamers benefit from as many developers as possible making great games, no matter what region they’re from.  With E3 fast approaching, we will hopefully soon have even more games to look forward to from Japanese developers and proof that the revival trend will continue in 2018 and beyond.

The Elements of Gameplay

In my previous article, I dissected the meaning behind several essentially identical terms used to judge games, terms that I hate.  I condensed them under the label of “soul,” and argued that if a game actually had a soul, it would be its gameplay.  I realized that just labeling the real important part of a game as gameplay could sound kind of like the copout I accused the term soul of being.  What exactly is gameplay, anyway?  Well, I’ve actually given that quite a bit of thought, and pinpointed five clearly defined (if often subjective in terms of quality) parts of a game that combine to form that seemingly sacred concept of gameplay.  I’ll be going over each one, so let’s start putting together this Megazord known as gameplay!

Control

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Let’s start with something simple, but vital to every game, arguably the primary thing that defines something as a video game.  Control is one of those things where it being good means you never think about it.  You’re not thinking about the controls when you’re steering an airborne Mario past obstacles or circle strafing demons as Doomguy, but if those games had bad controls you sure as hell would be.  Control is the link between the game and the player, good control adds more to immersion than all the graphical touches and flavor text in the world.  Bad control, on the other hand, will haunt a game no matter how much it excels at the other elements of gameplay.  Control sets the tone for a game: some of the other elements have to be designed entirely around the controls.  One game’s perfect control could ruin a different game, and that could easily go both ways.  Control is the vehicle that the other elements of gameplay ride in, and if it crashes, the entire game goes up in smoke.

Content

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You’re playing a modern retail game that does everything perfectly.  You’re completely absorbed by the gameplay, the first two hours made you fall in love and you can’t wait to see what’s next… CREDITS!?  I think we’ve all felt the painful sucker punch of an unexpected credits sequence.  No matter how a good a game is, er, was, if your $60 purchase ends after two hours it’s probably going to lower your opinion of the experience.  Content is probably the most objective element of gameplay: the amount of levels, missions, secrets, etc. in a game can’t be changed by someone’s opinion.  The objective nature of both what content is and how much an individual game has makes this a simple but important factor when it comes to gameplay.  While content doesn’t really affect the core gameplay experience directly, the truth is quantity does matter to some extent, and I think how long you get to enjoy a game is pretty important.  I mean, what are you going to do after you finish a game, just start it over again?  Wait, maybe you will…

Replay

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I debated on whether to combine this element with the above.  It was tricky because while content and replay serve a nearly identical function, the abundance of one often leads to the lack of the other.  These two elements are the only ones on the list that can almost totally replace each other.  Replay value is the other side of content’s coin.  Content is how much you get out of a game before the credits roll, replay value is whether you want to go back and play the game again after that happens.  The line can blur at times, what does going back to earlier levels for a better rank, with the option to do it before or after you beat the game, count as?  What about looking for secrets needed to unlock the real final level/ending after you saw the first ending?  How the hell do you define when a multiplayer game is being replayed?  Replay can also have a purer form, however.  A truly great game will be fun to play again and again even if you’ve seen everything in it.  If you feel compelled to go back to a completed game again and again over the years, it has truly achieved great replay value.  Replay value is what makes a game immortal, how can it not be part of a game’s soul?

Challenge

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If Content and Replay can make up for each other, Challenge completely inverts that and must fight with itself to reach the correct balance.  A game being too easy makes it boring and pointless.  A game being too hard makes it frustrating and stressful.  To have great gameplay, a game has to use the spice known as difficulty and the sweetener known as mercy in just the right amounts, creating just the right amount of Challenge.  Checkpoints should be placed thoughtfully, difficulty spikes and breathers have to show up at the right times, puzzles have to take effort to solve without throwing the player into a pit of despair that only looking up the solution can rescue them from.  The game must somehow appeal to players of different skill and experience levels in the same package.  A game’s difficulty level may not be the most subjective quality about it, but whether it’s the RIGHT difficulty level is going to cause fistfights.  This is where Challenge versus cheapness comes into play, and games should make sure they only rely on challenge, no matter how many people online define cheapness as “any challenge above my personal skill level.”  If you thread the needle just right, however, you’ll contribute something to gameplay that adds a dimension to the experience which other artistic mediums can’t compare with.

Design

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And now we arrive at what I personally consider to be the most important part of gameplay.  I was originally going to call this element Level Design, but in addition to preferring that every element was one word, there are a few genres where that name wouldn’t fit.  Level design is mostly a cosmetic feature in genres like fighting games or Tetris-style puzzle games, after all.  In the end, there are a lot of terms you could use for this element depending on the genre.  Level design, fighting engine, competitive balance, course layout, it goes on.  At its core, this element is a game’s unique and personal layout, the thing that makes an individual game that specific individual game.  You could mess with the other elements in a game and it would be a variant or fragment of the same game, but Design makes it a new game. All of the other elements are intimately connected with design in every aspect.  The most subjective element when it comes to quality by far, Design is truly the core of the soul, the thing that defines the individual.  Whether it’s designing the level, placing enemies, balancing combat, thinking up puzzles, or deciding how far to go with realism, Design is the most important part of gameplay and by extension the most important part of game.

By Your Powers Combined

So there we have it, the five parts of a game that I believe make up that ideal known as gameplay.  Whether you want to think in terms of Power Rangers/Captain Planet/Avatar/My Little Pony or whatever, they have been assembled and Gameplay, the soul of a game, has been formed.  So, if you ever want to argue with someone bashing your favorite game for lacking “soul,” you can use gameplay as a counterargument, and you can use these elements to define gameplay.  Maybe I’ll write something about the anti-elements at some point, but for now I’ve said all I want to.  See you next time, and remember that gameplay puts the soul in console, wait, gameplay is the only consoulation for… no, don’t be con-souled about the soul of… never mind, just go.

 

Striking at the Soul

Over the years I’ve come across many terms that I hate seeing applied to games.  Soul.  Magic.  Heart.  Charm.  Spark.  So it looks like it’s time to do another list, all of these terms deserve to be categorically addressed so I can explain exactly why they are not valid ways to judge games.  Let’s get right to it: time for the intimidating task of dissecting five different concepts in one article.  Let’s get started!

Magic

What it means:  Magic, when applied to games, is a catch-all term for an indescribable feeling you get from a game.  Something you can’t describe, but you just KNOW it when you see it.  Something that supercedes any part of a game you can actually give a supportable opinion on.  Magic is different from the other terms because, because…

Wait…

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All of them are the same freaking thing! 

Yep, the list was a fake-out.  These (and probably many more) terms are all functionally identical, and it’s that concept that I want to argue against, in all of its guises.  There are two main things that the various terms (I’m just going to use soul for the rest of this article) are actually describing, and neither are good reasons for judging a game.  Let’s get to the real dissection!

Aesthetics

You know how some people judge games on their technical or budget merits?  How many polygons there are, how much wide open empty space the draw distance can show at once, how expensive the voice actors were?  Well people who care about a game’s soul would never do that.  Why?  Because it’s not petty ENOUGH!  It’s the little things that make a game great: little touches in the background, the exact right amount of comedic quirk in the dialogue, whether it’s a sequel or not.  Judging a game by the graphics as a whole makes you shallow, but judging it by dissecting minor details of the graphics makes you deep.  Maybe an 8-bit art style could have potentially passed your metric for the game having enough “soul” in its look, but you’re still judging a game for how it looks, and no euphemism is going to change that.

 

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This is what letting games be judged by soul gets us.

 

Why would anyone believe in this double standard?  I’m not convinced that many genuinely do.  The fact is, saying a game is bad because of its graphics is going to make a lot of people disregard your opinion, which in my magical and soulful special spark of an opinion is justified.  As someone who still regularly plays games from earlier console generations, defends Nintendo for focusing on gameplay over writing and story in many of their series, and gets very annoyed by being told my systems of choice are inferior to the “master race” because the graphics aren’t as good, I obviously don’t approve of judging games by their graphics.  So I don’t like it when people ostensibly on my side do the exact same thing but insist that it’s actually about “soul.”  If you care about aesthetics to the point where a game not meeting your expectations in them can ruin the experience for you, I’ll have a much easier time agreeing to disagree if you don’t use vague and frustrating terms to hide it.  But maybe it isn’t really the artistic merit that the game is really being judged on, quite often it’s really…

Nostalgia

Yep, it’s come to this, the big N.  No, not Nintendo… well, a lot of the time they are the ones this is being used against, but that’s not the point.  It’s not a coincidence that sequels and recent games are so much more likely to be derided for having an insufficient quantity of soul.  Nostalgia is a powerful force.  I’m not going to claim to be immune to it: in fact I’m hyper-sensitive to it and develop it much faster than most people (I’m listening to a song that brings back memories of 2014 as I type this sentence).  I’ve certainly replayed many games that in no way merit ever being touched again because they gave me nostalgia, I’m still looking for my floppy disc of Dino: Lost in Bedrock just because it’s a different version than the one you can find online.

 

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This has great nostalgia for me, do I have claws for claiming cat puns and terrible controls are soulful?

 

So having nostalgia is fine, enjoying things just because of nostalgia is fine.  But you have to be aware of what you’re doing, and more important, don’t judge new games on how much they appeal to your nostalgia!  If you want to pick up a game because it’s pandering to your nostalgia just right, go for it, but don’t judge newer games as a whole because they don’t accomplish the impossible task of giving you the same nostalgic feeling a game you played in elementary school does.  It is not the game lacking soul that makes it feel less magical than the 20-year-old previous installment did, it’s the fact that you were 20 years younger back then.  Not understanding your nostalgia cravings is just going to lead to disappointment and despair, and bashing every new game in a franchise because of that makes you annoying, okay? So stop it.

So what would it be?

So if games actually did have souls, what would the soul be?  What is the core of a game, the element that really makes it special?  If you took away all the extras and aesthetics, what would be left to define the pure essence of a game?  How long am I going to insult your intelligence by building this up when it’s blatantly obvious that I’m going to say the answer is gameplay?

 

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The gameplay in this is more soul than you’d find in any pixel art walking simulator.

 

Yes, if we were to say games actually have a soul, it would clearly be gameplay.  In addition to being the most important part of a game, gameplay ultimately leads to the things that are wrongfully called the soul of a game.  A game being good in the first place will be a major contribution to how much nostalgia it eventually produces, right?  And the positive associations a game gives you thanks to its gameplay are what lead to the little aesthetic touches and quirks that people mistake for soul.  If Bubsy was a platforming masterpiece, I firmly believe Bubsy’s annoying puns would be iconic and loved in a somewhat ironic way like the dialogue in Star Fox 64 and Resident Evil 4.

So that’s my rant for the day.  Week, months, whatever I procrastinated it to.  I hope I’ve made some points about what a game should and shouldn’t be judged by, or at least gotten people to find better terms for what they use to judge games.  A thought occurred to me as I was writing this, it wouldn’t be hard to argue that I was using gameplay as just as much of a vague catch-all in this article as the terms I railed against.  Going into detail about what I consider gameplay, though, would take up an entire article of its own… so that’s what I’m going to give it.  Stay tuned!

 

Respect the Unexpected

Sometimes when you look back on a game after the fact, you realize it wasn’t as good as you made yourself believe when you first got it, or you realize it was actually a lot better than you gave it credit for.  Those games aren’t the focus of this list.  This list is for games that instantly changed my strong preconceived notions as soon as I played them.  It can either be a game I went into with hype that was instantly deflated, or a game that I expected to hate or at least be indifferent towards that I ended up liking.  I have three examples for both types, and I’ll be alternating between negative and positive.  Since I always like ending on a positive, I’ll let the negative examples start the pattern.  Let’s get started!

Mega Man X6

What I Expected

I really, really love the Mega Man X series.  I would consider the first three games to be my favorite trilogy in all of gaming, and the original Mega Man X is one of my favorite games of all time.  The first four X games are my four favorite Mega Man games of any type, and Mega Man X5 is a step down but still a great game that I have played through dozens of times.  So, it should go without saying that I had very high expectations going into Mega Man X6, it looked like just a level pack for MMX5, but I was fine with that.  Two console MMX games in the same year seemed too good to be true, but really, what could go wrong?

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What Actually Happened

I’m still not sure what the hell happened with Mega Man X6.  MMX6 isn’t a lazy level pack, that would be so much better than what we got.  No, X6 is a train wreck that seems to go out of its way to make as many stupid, frustrating level design choices as possible.  Levels range from the same tedious and frustrating mid-boss fought four times in a row to nightmarish extended dashes to safety as a one hit kill ceiling tries to crush you.  Bosses are just as bad.  Even the story is terrible.  I beat X5, X8, and even the infamous X7 on the day I bought them.  I didn’t force myself to beat X6 until over six months later.  I could tell something was wrong right away, and to this day I don’t understand what happened.  This isn’t the result of greed and laziness, it’s a calculated attempt to twist one of the best gameplay systems there is into a horrible parody of itself.

Doom (1993)

What I Expected

I am a console gamer, I have been ever since I stopped being forced to subsist on Hi-Tech PC games, and I always will be.  So, Doom being a PC originating series that only got inferior console ports for most of its existence put up quite barrier to me getting into it.  I wasn’t all that into first person shooters to begin with, so I didn’t feel like I was missing out on much, a mid-90s western PC series didn’t sound like it was going to offer much.  I tried the famously arcade like and over the top Serious Sam games via their console compilation, and enjoyed them.  I decided that it was worth trying the Doom compilation, three games and several expansion packs for around $10 made the risk exceptionally low, so why not?  But I wasn’t expecting that much out of it, especially the original Doom and its very direct sequel.

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What Actually Happened

Damn you realism, damn you real guns and human enemies, and damn you every mid-90s magazine dismissing all FPSes as worthless “Doom clones.”  I love old style FPSes.  The varied weapons, the enemies with attacks you can directly dodge, the fast movement and lack of reloading, the creative level design, Doom is everything I wanted in the genre but didn’t know until I played it.  The modern console remasters of Doom and its sequel have everything the PC versions did, and I love them.  Doom and its level pack like sequel are probably my favorite western developed games of the 20th century, and easily my favorite PC originating games of all time.  By extremely good fortune, I got into the series just a bit over a year from the phenomenal DOOM 2016, which I have raved about at length in previous articles.  Doom expanded my horizons in a wonderful way.

Twisted Metal (2012)

What I Expected

I was fascinated by Twisted Metal 2 years before I owned a PlayStation, the characters and concept were very interesting to me and I read all I could about it in game magazines.  My instincts correctly blocked any interest in Twisted Metal 3 and 4, but I eventually got to play TM2 and I liked the gameplay just as much as the characters and concept.  Twisted Metal Black rekindled my interest, even though I once again didn’t have the system it was on when the game was released.  I eventually got it and loved it even more than Twisted Metal 2.  Then the series just disappeared, despite the acclaimed revival.  There was nothing but a decent PSP game for a decade, but then hope came, another reboot of the series.  Not having stories for each car was a big negative, but maybe the unified story mode could make up for it, and the important part was getting more of that signature gameplay, with online I could use!

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What Actually Happened

989 rose from the grave and cursed Twisted Metal 2012.  That’s my best guess, anyway.  For one thing, the “real story mode” was actually just three traditional driver stories (previous games had 4-5 times as many, for reference) glued together, ranging from decent to an idiotic pun ending.  But that’s not the worst part.  The controls were extremely slippery and mocked me by putting in the classic style that I wanted to use but making it unplayable with a small change (Human biology trivia: we only have two thumbs.  Do not demand we use both analog sticks and face buttons at the same time).  And the “story” mode put in absolutely atrocious and mandatory checkpoint race missions that the controls made into pure torture.  Assuming this doesn’t kill the series, the next reboot needs to be much, much, MUCH better.

Knack

What I Expected

Knack has been a running joke ever since it was announced alongside the PlayStation 4.  A generic PS1/2-era platformer with a character getting bigger gimmick, this was what Sony chose to showcase their new console!?  Sony giving digital copies away with PS4s and not bothering to tell the people who bought the systems just made the game more of a laughing stock.  While I didn’t think the game looked horrible, it seemed like it focused on mindless combat with minimal platforming.  I had little desire to play it unless I could find it for really cheap, and even then it would mainly be so I could make fun of it while streaming it.  Well, the game was $5 on a PSN Flash Sale, so I jumped on it.  While in my Skype group chat I started the stream, ready to laugh at the infamous Knack.

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What Actually Happened

My thoughts upon starting the game were that the controls were actually very good.  Combat was pretty solid, much better than I was expecting and actually a significant challenge on hard mode.  Good enemy variety.  Wow, the levels are really long, and there are a ton of worlds.  I thought, “Maybe people were too harsh on this game, or maybe it all goes to repetitive hell soon”.  It didn’t.  The levels and enemies stayed varied throughout the game, the platforming wasn’t too frequent but there was enough to add variety to the combat.  The combat was fast paced and reminded me of classic beat-em-ups, specifically Turtles in Time for some reason (my favorite game in the genre).  Knack… Knack is a hidden gem.  It’s not a masterpiece, but it’s a very solid game that definitely kicks the crap out of PS4’s other 2013 and 2014 exclusives.  I’m genuinely anticipating Knack 2, which looks like a significant improvement on what turned out to be a solid foundation.  Give this game a chance: the fact that it’s getting a sequel is a miracle.

Grand Theft Auto III

What I Expected

If you’ve been following my articles, you probably saw this coming a mile away.  But if you haven’t, this is probably a pretty big surprise.  The first two negative example games are hated by most people, but not Grand Theft Auto 3.  This is considered one of the most influential games of all time, it basically started a genre and just look at how much you can do!  Being under 17 and having just recently convinced my parents to let me play M rated games when GTA3 came out in 2001, I decided not to push my luck and ignored it while everyone raved about it.  Years later, I finally picked up the game, my first GTA.  Having heard everyone rave about this game for years and intrigued by the length and scale of the game, I had pretty high hopes when I started.  What could possibly go wrong?

gta3

What Actually Happened

Did you realize that I was referencing Bubsy there?  Now don’t worry, I’m not going to be a hyperbolic hater and say Grand Theft Auto 3 is comparable to Bubsy 3D in quality.

…But it is about as good as the original Bubsy.  Now before you tear into me and I retaliate with my story about how I missed out on a genre I really enjoy for years because everyone insisted GTA was the pinnacle of it (the first good GTA game is Saints Row 2), let me go over everything GTA3 does wrong.  Horrific aiming system, absurdly harsh penalty for dying that means you basically have to load your save every time that happens (and save points are NOT frequent), having to drive back to the start of missions every time you want to try again, needing to track down hidden packages that could be absolutely anywhere in the entire game if you want to mitigate that penalty for dying, this open world game from 2001 not having a freaking MAP.  Trying to actually play this game for any purpose besides mindless chaos is a nightmare, and the game still makes said chaos a pain in the ass to accomplish.  The consequences for dying or being arrested being so harsh goes completely against the “freedom” this game supposedly gave players.  And while future GTAs would fix some of the problems from this game, several gigantic ones stayed around until Grand Theft Auto V in 2013, the first game in the series I actually like.  And it would have been so easy to fix these problems (the HD remaster of San Andreas fixes enough to make it enjoyable), but no one seemed to care about them in any way until Grand Theft Auto IV’s fan backlash.  Sorry, but I think GTA3 is a genuinely bad game and probably the most overrated of all time.

Tetris Attack

What I Expected

Puzzle games seemed inherently boring to me when I was new to gaming.  Doing nothing in a game but rearranging blocks seemed completely pointless.  I was aware of Tetris because everyone on the planet is, but I had no desire to play it, similar games, or games that I would later discover only had its name slapped on them for a marketing gimmick (you know, we’d probably have this game on Virtual Console if it was called Yoshi’s Puzzle League).  I never would have chosen to play Tetris Attack, but Blockbuster had a promotion where renting it came with a free other game rental of your choice, so there was no reason not to rent it.  And since I had the cart, why not give it a quick chance?  But aside from the Yoshi’s Island setting, I wasn’t expecting to really enjoy anything in the game, it would probably be a more colorful Wordtris.

tetrisattack

What Actually Happened

Literally the second I started playing I loved it.  I could go on about why Tetris Attack is the best puzzle game of all time, going into how the mechanics fix a massive flaw inherent to almost every other competitive puzzle game, but that wasn’t what I was thinking when I played the game the first time.  The intuitive and addictive base gameplay is what drew me in when I thought I hated puzzle games.  The competitive mode gave things a fighting game feel that I loved.  There was just something so inherently satisfying about the game, I don’t remember exactly what I identified it as on that day over 20 years ago, but I know my love was instantaneous.  My horizons were expanded that day, and Tetris Attack has remained one of my favorite games on my favorite system without ever wavering.  That moment where a game connects with you instantly and against all your expectations is something that can’t be fully recreated at both my age where I have played so many games, and in the age we live in where you can easily watch videos and read all you want about every game before you play it.  There’s a magic in my first encounter with Tetris Attack that I will always remember.

So, there you have it, six games that flipped my perception of them upside down within the first play session.  Aside from my personal reminiscing, the takeaway from this article I want everyone to have is that you can’t really know what a game is like until you play it.  Even with games where my expectations weren’t so radically shattered, nothing except ruining the game by watching a full playthrough can really let you know what a game is like before you play it.  Always be prepared going into a game, it might be a tragic disappointment, but it could also be a magical moment or great surprise that you never saw coming.

 

How Wii Will Remember U

As I write this, Wii U owners and critics are preparing for a dramatic switch.  I don’t mean the console, I mean a switch in how the system is viewed.  Wii U did not sell very well, it was the underdog for almost all of its life.  This led to excessive and vicious trolling at every opportunity: people bashing it for lacking games while the “real” eighth gen systems subsisted on very slightly polished PS3 games, redefinition of what 3D meant to bash Nintendo, and of course predictions of its imminent death.  And what happens when it actually dies?  Worship.  When’s the last time you saw Dreamcast or GameCube or Neo Geo Pocket Color bashed for their poor sales?  Wii U is destined to be a revered cult favorite, and will surely be Nintendo’s last “real” console according to trolls at some point.  So, as we look back at its life, let’s do it both ways.  Every system has good and bad parts, so let’s look at Wii U from both perspectives.  I always get the bad out of the way first, and it came first chronologically anyway, so let’s begin with:

The “Wii U is Still Alive” Perspective

Wii U was a spectacular failure.  The very first we ever saw of it was a horrible trailer that made it look like it was just a controller accessory for the original Wii.  The tablet like controller never caught on with the mass market, and even Nintendo was quick to pretend it didn’t exist.  Retail games dried up almost instantly.  Nintendo went right from their best-selling console to their worst, everything about the Wii U was a disaster.

After launch day, the system suffered a terrible drought that lasted nine entire months.  Nintendo delayed their “launch window” games and the most we got from third parties were multi-plat games that were often missing features.  Despite bragging about all the third parties supporting them at the system’s reveal and re-reveal (where it was just possible to tell it was a new console), third parties were quick to abandon the Wii U.  Late or inferior PS360 ports were the extent of the support from major western publishers, and even those dried up to almost nothing within a year.  Major publishers and developers openly mocked the system and no efforts were made by anyone to give it games that were only on eighth generation systems.  Third party support became worse than it had ever been.

Nintendo’s games should have been the saving grace, but they refused to give gamers what they wanted.  We got a 2D Mario at launch, a linear 3D Mario, a freaking Donkey Kong game instead of Metroid, and some squid game.  Paper Mario Color Splash was a slap in the face to every former fan of the Paper Mario series, and Nintendo constantly let 3DS steal Wii U’s exclusives.  Nintendo had clearly given up on the system by 2015 and forced it to do a death march until they finally released a new console.  Everything about the system was a mistake and it would be in the best interest of Nintendo and gamers everywhere to just forget that this failure ever happened.

The “Wii U is Dead” Perspective

The Wii U was a fantastic system subjected to some of the greatest injustices in gaming history.  The system had some of Nintendo’s best games and incredible potential that could have easily made it a bigger success than the original Wii if anyone had given it a chance.  The Wii U Pad can do everything you could possibly want out of a controller and simple quality of life improvements provided by the touchscreen could have given it the edge over other systems in nearly any multi-plat.  Wii U didn’t fail, we failed the Wii U.

The supposedly terrible drought was the result of the system having a launch that was too good, over 30 games were available at launch and if you were depending on Wii U for your console needs there was enough to last you until Pikmin 3 in August 2013.  That’s right, the “great drought” lasted nine months, as opposed to around two years for the Playstation 4 and Xbox One, which had terrible launches to boot.  And remember PS4 getting praised for playing used games, and Xbox One for adding limited backwards compatibility long after release?  Guess what system fully supported used games and had full backwards compatibility from the start?  Wii U was the victim of a hypocritical and vicious media, plain and simple.

The lazy, entitled, and viciously unprofessional actions by third parties were in no way the system’s fault.  Did Nintendo tell Ubisoft to traumatize everyone with the original Red Steel, leading to Zombi U’s disappointing sales?  No, and they didn’t tell them to sabotage poor Rayman Legends in response to that just to make sure Wii U didn’t even have it as a timed exclusive.  Did they tell companies to leave DLC out of the Wii U versions of multi-plats, setting up a vicious cycle where they couldn’t sell?  Did they personally summon whatever demon was running EA and provoke it into every act of blatant sabotage or immature public shot at the Wii U?  Third parties never gave the system a chance, Nintendo’s big mistake was giving THEM a chance.

Now as for Nintendo’s own games, they made some of their best games ever.  We got two fantastic Mario games lacking nothing but nostalgia rebranded as “soul.”  Mario Kart and Smash Bros. were leagues better than their Wii counterparts.  Star Fox, Pikmin, and an absolutely phenomenal Yoshi platformer made their returns.  Splatoon showed Nintendo can still make a great and popular new IP whenever the mood strikes them.  Nintendo made alliances with third parties to get great exclusives like Bayonetta 2, The Wonderful 101, Pokken Tournament, and Hyrule Warriors.  Super Mario Maker made the longstanding dream of gamers come true, and Donkey Kong Country Tropical Freeze is one of the best platformers of all time.  Even the mini-game compilation at launch was bursting with content and far deeper gameplay than you would expect.  Nintendo not catering to the exact whims of jaded gamers (who would doubtlessly have changed their demands as soon as they got them) doesn’t mean they didn’t bring their A game.

My Actual Thoughts

So, to conclude, what do I think of the Wii U and its life when I’m not purposefully being blindly positive or negative?  Well, I’m not going to deny that some mistakes were made, there’s no way to deny that the console sales were indeed pretty much a disaster.  I’m not going to absolve Nintendo of all responsibility for what went wrong, but double standards on the part of third parties and the gaming community definitely share some blame for what went wrong.  Nintendo misjudging how long it would take to get the hang of HD development was a big factor in the initial drought, and they should have made Wii U being a new system clearer.  Third parties abandoning it after their late, often inferior ports didn’t sell a huge amount, though, is something that really happened and it is not at all fair to blame Nintendo for that.  The things PS4/X1 got praised for that Wii U had ignored probably weren’t the result of malicious intent, but it was unfortunate timing that Nintendo wasn’t responsible for.

Nintendo really did make some of their best games on the system, even if they had clearly changed their focus to the Switch late in the Wii U’s life, the things I said about games in the positivity section are pretty much how I really feel.  New Super Mario Bros. U, Donkey Kong Country Tropical Freeze, and Yoshi’s Wooly World are exceptional games that people unfairly dismissed because they were 2D.  The collaborations with third parties for exclusives were a great idea and were usually successful (assuming anyone remembers Devil’s Third, that was the obvious exception).  Wii U’s amazing attach rate for first party games shows that Nintendo was still making great games and that people still like them.  However, third party was clearly lacking (and not just in big budget games like the hidden gem filled Wii) and Nintendo’s learning period for HD game design limited the quantity a bit.  While there were some great indie games, Wii U really could have used the mid-ware style retail releases that gave Wii so many overlooked but great games.  Thankfully, the portable/console dual nature of the Switch shows signs of bringing those back.

Appropriately enough, I’d rank the Wii U solidly in the middle as far as Nintendo systems go.  It didn’t match its predecessor or the legendary SNES, but it could easily compete with Nintendo’s other systems.  Definitely a quality over quantity system, a couple of dozen great exclusives that definitely justify its purchase, but aren’t going to push it to the top of the Nintendo heap.  I’m not sad to see the negativity that dominated the Wii U’s lifespan go, I’m more than ready for a Switch.  The system itself, though, has a solid lineup of great games that I would strongly recommend collecting before their inevitable price inflation.  In the future, when the negativity of the era has been washed away by time and the nostalgia filter, I think Wii’ll have many fond memories of U.

 

But Is It Bart?

 

One of Professor Icepick’s many series that never got off the ground was called “But Is It Art?”, in which he looked at games universally considered bad through the light of a critic desperate to interpret the game as high art that was far too profound to have good gameplay.  I believe a similar concept was used in nearly every review of Gone Home.  So, I will be bringing this series back with my own installment, and since I got my 15 minutes of internet fame from the Dead Bart creepypasta, the only logical choice is to twist more Simpsons media into something unrecognizable.  But this time, the horror comes from the source material, not my interpretation.  It’s time to analyze Bart’s Nightmare, a poorly designed, frustrating mess that probably doesn’t even crack the list of top five worst Simpsons games, which is horrifying.  But maybe we were looking at it wrong, we should have been asking: “But is it art?”

Bart’s Nightmare is the story of Bart Simpson, face of ‘90s animation until everyone realized Homer was funnier, falling asleep the night before a big homework assignment is due.  Bart has one of those hub-based nightmares we all have in which he must collect the pages of his homework from several terrible gameplay styles.  Right away we see this game’s brilliance, the sheer courage of the developers.  Given the task of making what was already just another brick in the wall of terrible Simpsons games, they doubtlessly viewed this game as nothing but an unpleasant homework assignment.  This naked honesty is something few developers would ever be willing to put in their game.  Bart Simpson, underachiever and allegedly proud of it, was the perfect metaphor for Simpsons games.  On the surface the publishers were proud of their money-making crap, but just as Bart is troubled in his sleep at the thought of more failure, the developers are trying to express their inner pain at being forced into this situation.  The bad gameplay is the best way they can make the player emphasize with them.

As mentioned, Bart’s Nightmare is hub-based.  Now most games using this format would make a hub that had its own architecture, ideally its own satisfying and creative level, or at least something where you had some sort of control over which level you went to and when.  But this is Bart’s Nightmare, a logical and enjoyable hub world would be the epitome of ludonarrative dissonance.  Instead, Bart’s Nightmare has an endlessly looping sidewalk filled with enemies that are either so easy to avoid they may as well not exist, or that take full advantage of Bart’s terrible jump that is completely unsuited for the ¾ perspective.  To enter the levels, Bart must find a piece of paper blowing across the ground.  The appearance of these are random, and the game even lets you walk either left or right, just to give you the illusion of control.  Is choosing between two options when you have absolutely no way of knowing which is correct really a choice?  Bart’s Nightmare poses that question, and like all great art, stops there instead of answering it.

And then we get to the levels themselves.  There are five levels, and eight homework pages that Bart must collect.  Three of the levels have two parts, each giving you a homework page (in another brilliant metaphor for the randomness of nightmares, whether you have to go back to the hub world or can just continue to part two of a stage after getting the first page of homework is inconsistent between the multi-part levels).  This means two of the levels are just a single part, and these are the two most tolerable levels.  The purple door leads to a mindless but short and painless level taking place in Bart’s bloodstream, while the blue door leads to a Bartman themed segment that would almost be an enjoyable shooter if you weren’t cursed with a slingshot that shoots pellets with a wilting arc that makes hitting enemies a chore.  If every part of the game was like these segments, it might just make it into the elite class of slightly above average 16-bit licensed games.  Alas, the best parts of the game are the shortest.  The message here is clear, the fun parts of life are fleeting.  The Simpsons episode “A Totally Fun Thing That Bart Will Never Do Again” examined this same theme nearly 20 years after Bart’s Nightmare, the game is such a profound work of art that it was miles ahead of its source material.

Now let’s look at the larger levels.  The yellow door leads to an Itchy and Scratchy themed beat-em-up.  I already mentioned that the platformer style obstacles in the hub world didn’t work thanks to the ¾ perspective iconic to beat-em-ups, so the stage set in that genre must work, right?  If Bart’s Nightmare were made by incompetent developers, sure.  But this game is true art, and the developers put the effort into making sure that the collision detection in the beat-‘em-up stages was still terrible.  Making the controls only work in one of those levels would be laziness, but making it work in NEITHER is brilliance.  You tediously fight through attacks by both Itchy and Scratchy, ensuring there is a max of two enemies on screen at a time.  The only weapon with decent hit detection is a pan that you get early on, you are given the opportunity to pick up seemingly better weapons later, but trying to line up a hit will most likely get you killed.  The game is teaching you the dangers of temptation, which anyone who bought a Simpsons console game in the 1990s clearly needs a lesson in.  Brilliant.

The green door leads to Bartzilla.  The first segment of this level has you as a gigantic reptilian Bart who must somehow defend himself from constant assaults by smaller and faster enemies, while your hitbox takes up a huge chunk of the screen.  You are in the position of a video game boss: this segment is clearly meant to teach empathy, showing you how little fun being the boss in a game would be.  If you somehow get past this segment, you are forced to climb a skyscraper as a shrunken Bartzilla.  Everything is reversed from the previous part of the level.  You’re small, have one almost useless attack, and instead of auto-scrolling you are constantly knocked back whenever you take damage.  Both sides of the coin cause pain and frustration, just like the choice the developers had between losing their job and making a terrible Simpsons game.  More empathy, Bart’s Nightmare is a fantastic teacher.

I saved the best for last, the orange door leads to the Temple of Maggie.  As a child, this was the only segment I couldn’t beat, and I still have never legitimately beaten it (even with save states, it is incredibly frustrating).  The confusing tile puzzles and absurd leap in logic needed to survive (scrolling the camera ahead somehow triggers traps), combined with the extremely unforgiving lives system (you start with one life, and falling or a temple trap will instantly end it, going for the extra lives will just make the puzzle harder and likely get you killed), ensures that you will spend much more time wandering the barren wasteland that is the hub world looking for the increasingly rare paper that will take you back to the level doors.  The message that life is mostly tedium interspersed with brief false hope and frustration is one that anyone who plays the game will keep with them forever.

Whether you somehow finish the game or finally die in the hub world after the tedium induced fatigue overpowers the frequent extra hitpoint powerups, you will be greeted with Bart waking up and getting the grade for his homework assignment.  Even getting all the pages won’t guarantee the highest grade, there is a point system in the game.  Putting a point system in a game with so many different gameplay styles, as well as an endless hub world, is absolutely nonsensical but makes perfect sense as dream logic.  The ending and game over screen have no difference other than the grade Bart gets on his homework, which is something the character wouldn’t care about.  A meaningless end to a meaningless quest, anyone who has ever accomplished something in a dream will be able to relate.  There is no reward, no happiness, no sense of accomplishments.  There is only Bart’s Nightmare.

Okay, breaking character, what do I really think of Bart’s Nightmare?  Well, I think my “praise” got that through pretty clearly.  Mini-game levels ranging from below average to atrocious, one of the worst hubworld systems I have ever seen in a game, there is nothing redeeming about the game other than the fact that many Simpsons games managed to be even worse.  I hope you’ve enjoyed this installment of But Is It Art?, there will likely be more to come because I want to get SOMETHING out of playing games like this.  See you next time!

Lots of Red, No White but Blue

Hello. This is Dari.  I am starting a new series called “Dari-Isms.”  This is going to try to explain the inner machinations of my mind, which apparently a lot of people don’t understand.  Most of these are going to be about gaming, but I may throw some other opinion pieces in, if people want to hear them. Today I’m gonna talk about some of my favorite and least favorite Capcom “mascots” of yesteryear. I am mainly going to talk about Ryu and Ken (of Street Fighter) and Zero and Megaman X (of Megaman X).

Let’s start with Ryu. Ryu is the mascot and the face of Street Fighter. He is most likely the first person anyone thinks of when they think of fighting games in general, not just Street Fighter. This is one of the reasons I hate him. He’s a very boring character. And his moveset, while copied and done better by most of the other characters that share his moveset, is also quite plain. Ryu himself usually moves like an old man with bad arthritis. He’s so stiff; I wonder how he even fights with any sort of speed! (i.e. crossover games like Marvel vs Capcom.) His Hadoken attack is usually very slow, but powerful. His Shoryuken is again, slow but powerful, and invincible on startup depending on the game, but again, it’s very stiff and can easily be stuffed or even just plain dodged, because it’s easily telegraphed. Ryu’s story is just plain sad. He’s a nomad from Japan who doesn’t have a family who just wanders around trying to get stronger, fight strong opponents and fight the ‘Satsui no Hado’ which can (and has depending on the game/timeline) overtake him and turn him evil, like another one of his counterparts, Akuma. But that’s another story for another time. Ryu is a terrible character. I understand he’s the “entry character” and he’s the base for everyone to learn off, but I feel like they’ve added so many more interesting characters that can take his place, that Ryu really would have, and should have faded into the background. He can still be the face of the series, but he can just be that. He doesn’t need half the popularity he has. He needs to sit down somewhere and stay there for a while. Now, again, he doesn’t need to sit out of a game where Street Fighter characters are prominent, but I mean he needs something to make him interesting.

In contrast, let’s talk about Ken Masters. Ken Masters originally started as the Player 2 alternative for Ryu. But he’s grown so much more since then. Ever since Street Fighter 2, he’s grown so much since being Ryu’s copy. He has fire in his shoryukens, which differentiates him from boring old, stiff Ryu. Also it seems like Ken has more mobility than Ryu ever will. It’s possibly because he’s younger than him.  Ken, I feel focuses more on his kicks than his counterpart. He also seems to have evolved more than his sparring partner. He has a shinryuken attack (in some games and media) that has him doing a strong shoryuken attack covered in a pillar of fire. Ryu cannot do this as far as what’s been shown. Ken also has a shin shoryuken which can hit for 2 or 3 times with his fire shoryuken. Ryu only does it once, but while there’s a lot of power behind it, it’s not as flexible or unique as Ken’s. Ken’s story is also fairly interesting. He has a family, a wife and a son. Some people would say that someone with a family shouldn’t be fighting, but he makes money this way and he also keeps up with his buddy Ryu, and keeps him relevant. So it’s fine. Ken is also an American. He met Ryu while at a tournament. They became friends and sparring partners under Gouken. Ken fights for his family and to be stronger in general. See how much better Ken is than Ryu? This is why I like Ken more than Ryu. They may have started as clones of each other but Ken Masters evolved more as a character than Ryu probably ever will.

Time to switch gears and move on to the two robots. I’ll start with Zero.  Zero is the bane of the Megaman X series in my eyes. He is supposedly the only creation of Megaman X that Keiji Inafune made. He wanted him in the beginning of the Megaman X series to be the star, but Capcom told him no. He decided to make him the star anyway. He had to save Megaman X in every game. If he wasn’t trying to save him, X himself was trying to rebuild him because he felt like he needed his friend back to save the world. I find this demoralizing to X and it made him seem like he was trying to steal the main character’s thunder. I find this extremely rude. Zero was so prominent in the grand scheme of things, that Megaman X was an unlockable character in his own game over him! Megaman X8 was the last game in the series. The Character who has been most prominent of the few times that Megaman X was represented was Zero. X appeared in the Project X Zone games, but those games weren’t as popular. Zero was in Tatsunoko vs Capcom, Ultimate Marvel vs Capcom 3 and a few other games. Megaman Zero even got his own very successful series of its own right, even using X as a boss. I find that demeaning but Capcom did what they wanted so I cannot fault them for what gave them a bunch of money in the end, even if they wouldn’t give X a chance.  I feel like Zero was made to steal the thunder of X and make him obsolete in comparison. They succeeded a bit too well. There are some fans who still care about X and remember who he is. These people are the only people who keep X’s spirit alive. And thanks to that X finally appears in a popular game again, Marvel vs Capcom Infinite. The rumors say that X will be very prominent in the story and he was the first character shown, aside Ryu. My personal opinion is that Zero shouldn’t appear in this and let X have his own shine, as he’s never allowed him to do so in his own series besides then. All Zero did was take over someone else’s series, kill it and then get his own series to succeed, to leave the character he stepped on in the dust.

Finally, we’ll talk about X. Megaman X is the Megaman who took over for Megaman Classic in his own series. X is a really good character that’s underestimated. He’s very powerful, yet he also wants peace. Gamers don’t like this aspect of him, even if Megaman Classic had the same attitude, and he was praised for it. Megaman was sadly overshadowed for Zero. And Zero went out of his way to kill his character and his series. Megaman X was a good character, but most people didn’t like him over his counterpart. He had powerful armors and he was great when he did battle. I feel like X needs more recognition and respect. He was unlockable in one of his own games where his name was still prominent in the title! He is a Megaman and he seems to be either bad luck or a curse upon anything he’s been in recently. I still enjoy Megaman X over Zero because he’s the underdog and even though he’s the main character, some people don’t acknowledge him, or will give him its due respect.

In summation, I like Ken Masters because he’s a great evolution of what was literally a palette swap of Ryu, who is a boring nomad who’s trying to control his evil. I enjoy X because he’s disrespected even though he’s the main character. I hate Zero because he stole the show from Megaman X and killed the entire series to spite X. He also apparently took over the entire representation of the series for some odd reason.  Not to say I hate all second fiddles to Capcom games, Protoman was good because he knew his place. He was a second fiddle to Megaman Classic,  but he didn’t outshine his Megaman, and he was still popular in the long run. I wish Zero could have taken this precedent, but sadly he didn’t.

Another Top 5 Series Revivals

I’m back!  After making occasional cameos in list articles, it’s time for me to make MY OWN list article, my first full Retronasissance article since 2013.  And for my revival article, what better topic than a followup to my list of the Top Ten Video Game Series Revivals?  I’ve managed to scrounge together five more games that meet my criteria of being fantastic entries in series that either had at least two consecutive weak entries before them, or had been missing for at least one console generation.  Not going to rank them in a specific order this time, let’s just focus on celebrating what a great sequel can do for a struggling series.  Without further ado, let’s begin!

Yoshi’s Wooly World (Nintendo Wii U – 2015)

How Things Were Before:  I love Yoshi.  I’ve always loved Yoshi, ever since I played Super Mario World for the first time on my cousin’s SNES.  In 1995, Yoshi got his own platformer, and it was fantastic.  Yoshi’s Island was such a great spin-off of the Mario platformers that it transcended the spin-off designation and was promoted to actual Mario platformer (I know it wasn’t called Super Mario World 2 everywhere, but it was part of the Mario Advance line everywhere).  Then… then tragedy struck.  Yoshi’s Story was an absurdly short, badly controlling disappointment.  Then Nintendo handed Yoshi over to their worst developer, Artoon/Arzest, for his next three platformers.  While Arzest managed to very, very slowly improve, even their best effort was light years behind the SNES masterpiece.  20 years since Yoshi’s Island, and there had never been a Yoshi platformer that even came close to it.  Things looked hopeless.

The Revival:  In early 2013, Nintendo showed some very brief footage of a new Yoshi platformer developed by Good Feel, using the aesthetic theme from Kirby’s Epic Yarn, which had already felt more like a Yoshi game than a Kirby game.  I had a [Developer Name] about this game, and was very happy when E3 2014 confirmed it was still being made. While I expected that we’d finally have an unambiguously good Yoshi game again, I never could have imagined how good it would turn out.  After playing through Yoshi’s Wooly World twice, I still haven’t decided whether it’s better than Yoshi’s Island.  20 years later, the Yoshi series got not just a great game, but a masterpiece that is right up there with YI.  Wooly World plays very similarly to YI, managing to capture its feel better than the really blatant attempts Yoshi’s Island DS and Yoshi’s New Island made when they copied it as directly as they could.  The level design is just as creative and excellent, the control is just as good, completing it 100% is less frustrating: Wooly World is a masterpiece that deserves way more attention than it got.  Good Feel, you better be working on a Switch sequel as I type this, and be planning at least one more Yoshi game after that.  If we get a third Yoshi game from them in the 2020s, at least we’ll average one Yoshi masterpiece a decade.

King’s Quest (PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, Xbox 360, Xbox One, PC – 2015-2016)

How Things Were Before:  Yeah, I’m not exactly as knowledgeable about this as I am about Yoshi.  Aside from a couple obscure console ports, King’s Quest was a PC only series for the vast majority of its life.  The original King’s Quest pioneered graphical adventure games in the mid-80s, and continued into the late 90s with eight main installments.  I’ve only played one of those, briefly, and what I’ve read about their puzzle design does not make me want to go back and play them (plus the whole PC thing).  I don’t want to pass judgment on games I haven’t played (although it’s my understanding that the last King’s Quest game before the gap was definitely not well liked), and thankfully, I don’t have to.  No matter how the original games were, the 17 year gap between the last entry in the original series and the first episode of the reboot easily qualifies it for this list.  After several attempts to revive the series that never got past early development, the series’ future looked bleak.  Well, I assume it did anyway, wasn’t really thinking about the series at the time, but that would change.

The Revival:  Inventory/point and click style adventure games have made a bit of a comeback in recent years, and in 2015 a King’s Quest revival finally got off the ground in the form of a five-part episodic series.  King’s Quest Chapter 1: A Knight to Remember was released for PC as well as several consoles, and was even given away to PlayStation Plus members (maybe on other platforms as well, but that’s how I ended up giving it a chance).  In my case, at least, it paid off.  The modern King’s Quest games are beautiful, hilarious, and touching games with great puzzles, fun mini-games, and a fantastic voice cast.  Despite acting as prequels, interquels, and sequels to the original games, I was able to follow the story without issue despite knowing nothing about the earlier King’s Quest games.  Each episode is about a very old King Graham telling his granddaughter about an adventure that took place during a different period of his life, with choices you can make that will affect not only the chapter you’re playing, but the future ones.  Combined, the chapters make an intricate and lengthy story that (aside from some frustrating design choices in Chapter 2) is of consistent, very high quality throughout.  I imagine it’s even better if you’re familiar with the series and get all the references to past games, but the 2015-2016 King’s Quest chapters are something I would recommend to everyone regardless and a fantastic return for the series.

Kirby’s Return to Dreamland (Nintendo Wii – 2011)

How Things Were Before:  Since his debut in 1992, Kirby has been one of Nintendo’s most popular characters.  With platformers on most Nintendo systems and a wide array of spin-offs, Kirby’s appearances have been far too frequent to risk making this list due to a skipped generation.  The quality of the games has never dipped that much either, so what is the series doing on this list?  Well, in 1996 Kirby Super Star revolutionized the core gameplay of the series by changing Kirby’s signature enemy powers from situational one attack wonders to complex sets of attacks that varied based on directional input and Kirby’s position.  This made most powers able to handle all types of situations, and made the gameplay feel so much better.  Then, it was gone.  Kirby kept getting platformers in the years to come, but none came close to the ability depth in Kirby Super Star.  They weren’t bad games, but something was very clearly missing compared to Kirby’s masterpiece, and as a result, they felt bland.  Why had such a great advancement for the series been so quickly forgotten?  I still have no idea.

The Revival:  In 2004, a Kirby game was shown for GameCube that seemed to bring back the ability depth from Kirby Super Star.  The game was never shown to the public again after 2005, but Nintendo insisted for years on end that it had been moved to the Wii and was still coming.  After the excellent (but not really a main series game) Kirby’s Epic Yarn, no one really expected the game to still exist.  So of course, in 2011, just months after KEY’s release, Kirby’s Return to Dreamland was announced, clearly the evolution of the GameCube game.  Return to Dreamland features abilities just as deep as Super Star, as well as some of the best level design Kirby had seen up to that point.  And this time, it stuck!  The 3DS Kirby platformers keep the same great core gameplay from Super Star and Return to Dreamland, and the series has never been better.  After a 15 year wait for a worthy sequel to Kirby Super Star, we got three fantastic Kirby platformers in a five-year span, even if some of the games in the interim were still pretty good, it’s hard to argue that isn’t a fantastic revival.

Tomb Raider (PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, PC – 2013)

How Things Were Before:  In 1996, at the dawn of 3D games with full freedom of character movement, the original Tomb Raider established itself as the premiere 3D adventure game that didn’t star an Italian plumber.  As badly as I think they aged, the first couple Tomb Raider games were beloved at the time and gave a sense of scope and adventure that few games could match.  As yearly sequels continued up to the fifth game, people started to get tired of the series and stopped forgiving the control quirks.  So, the series got a fresh start on the PlayStation 2… and the results were disastrous.  This led to another reboot with Tomb Raider Legend, which got pretty positive reception, but as its formula was repeatedly reused people once again got tired of the series.  Time for yet another reboot (and an excellent isometric spin-off), but was there any point in forcing this franchise to keep going?

The Revival:  Yes, there absolutely was.  Simply called Tomb Raider, the 2013 game got wrapped up in controversy over its darker tone and the fact that Lara would die if the player lost (which is somehow much worse than the playable characters who do the same in 99% of all games where you can die).  But none of that mattered to any but the most pretentious gaming journalist (as in, someone who can say ludonarrative dissonance with a straight face) once you got into the actual gameplay.   Tomb Raider 2013 took the basic gameplay of the Uncharted series (was had taken the basic gameplay of the Tomb Raider Legend and greatly improved it) and greatly improved it.  No more “follow the instructions” puzzles, there were tons of actual puzzles.  No more being told your character was an explorer while you followed a linear path, you actually explored the areas.  No more being limited to guns and “jumping”, you had Zelda style items at your disposal that you collected throughout the game.  No more automated jumping, you could CONTROL YOUR AIR MOVEMENT!  Combat wasn’t as improved, but it was still at least as good and very fun.  Tomb Raider 2013 blows away any previous Tomb Raider games or entries in its genre, and I really hope the just as good Rise of the Tomb Raider finds enough financial success to continue the series.

DOOM (PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC – 2016)

How Things Were Before:  Like King’s Quest, this was another series that I didn’t play much of in the old days, due to the good versions being relegated to PC for most of its existence.  Unlike King’s Quest, the classic games eventually got faithful console versions, and in 2015 I dug into them and realized I loved Doom and the faster paced early FPSes it revolutionized.  Doom 1 and 2 are true classics that I can personally guarantee are just as great today even without nostalgia.  As FPSes became more focused on realism, story, and missions, however, the series was either gone or making us wish it had stayed gone.  The only truly new entry in the 6th or 7th gens was Doom 3, which became a linear, horror themed, relatively slow paced and generic feeling shooter.  Everything that made Doom great had been lost, and the development hell consigned Doom 4 didn’t sound like it would make things better, having had a version canceled for being Call of Duty with demons.  Had one of gaming’s most legendary series truly lost everything?

The Revival:  The 2016 release, simply called DOOM, showed signs prior to release that the long development cycle may have been a good thing.  There were promises that it would be pure “metal” as opposed to Call of Doom, and there were very promising details like not having to reload weapons or press a button to make your character move quickly.  But the cinematic glory kills seemed like a bad sign, and was recapturing the feel of 23-year-old original the least bit practical?  Well, I’m going to give DOOM pretty much the biggest compliment I can give a sequel:  DOOM is to first person shooters what Super Mario Galaxy was to platformers.  DOOM doesn’t feel exactly like the first two games, it feels like the evolution they and their ENTIRE GENRE should have had from the start.  DOOM has the same intense action where the enemies are scared of YOU and exploration friendly levels that the originals had, plus modern controls, console style conveniences (well-placed checkpoints), and a brilliant solution to the cover based health regeneration that has been slowing down FPSes for generations.  Remember the glory kills?  They’re basically your health regeneration, they always make enemies drop some health, and they’ll drop extra health if you’re really close to death.  So instead of retreating and slowing down the game when you need health back, you play MORE aggressively and go right up to an enemy to refill your health.  This simple change completely transforms the dynamic and makes the gameplay faster and more intense instead of slower and repetitive.  DOOM is an instant classic that we can only pray has dramatic influence on the FPS genre, if I was ranking the entries on this list it would be number one.

So, there you have it, five more sequels that show you should never give up hope on a series.  There’s no amount of poor entries, no amount of generations missed, that can take away the chance of a series returning to its former greatness.  That’s all for now, but with plenty of upcoming games that could qualify for this series if they play their cards right, I might be back with more in a year or two.  Until then, remember that video game sequels are a good thing, never be unhappy that your favorite series keeps getting entries, even if you didn’t like the recent ones.

 

10 Games I Want Ported to PC: Mission to Moscow

Hello again and welcome to another list of games I want ported to PC, the first of 2015 no less. Let’s start with another recap of PC gaming news from the past couple of months. First off, the streak continues: Dead or Alive 5: Last Round was actually rumored to be coming to PC when I put out my last article and it was later confirmed. Street Fighter V was recently announced as a PS4 “exclusive”, despite the fact that it’s also going to appear on PC (with cross-play), but that’s probably not going to be released until sometime next year. Still, despite being showcased with an early build that’s only 20% complete, it’s already looking pretty good. Bandai Namco finally responded to rumors that Tekken 7 would be hitting PC (after a short-lived listing on Amazon UK). In a recent interview with Korean site Inven, series producer Katsuhiro Harada stated that a PC release is currently under consideration “for certain countries that prefer or need to play on PC”. He made it clear that this wasn’t a confirmation, but the fact that the game’s running Unreal Engine 4 would probably make a PC port fairly easy. Finally, there’s one last bit of PC fighting game news: Microsoft may be considering porting Killer Instinct for the Xbox One to PC. On the official Killer Instinct forums, a thread was started to gauge interest in a PC port of the title, and instead of closing the thread, it was pinned by the site’s adminstrators. The poll ran until January 9th and the results showed that more than 50% of the participants didn’t have an Xbox One, but would buy KI if it were available on PC. Nearly 25% said that they did own KI for XBO but thought it was a bad idea to port, but almost 20% were XBO owners that wanted the option to play on PC. If this thread is being scrutinized by Microsoft and KI Season 2 developer Iron Galaxy Studios, then a PC port is probably almost assured by now.

Oh, but wait, there’s more. After the rumors and the ESRB leaks, Idea Factory finally confirmed that Hyperdimension Neptunia Re;Birth 1 & 2, remakes of the first two Neptunia games, will be hitting Steam at some point in the future. In addition to that, Fairy Fencer F, another Idea Factory RPG, is also hitting Steam. Speaking of JRPGs, Kemco has partnered with Marvelous to bring their Wii U RPG Alphadia Genesis to Steam this month, marking another long-time Japanese developer making the jump to PC. Finally, I’d like to leave you with a rumor: according to NeoGAF user Verendus, the man who leaked Final Fantasy XV’s name and platform change right before it was announced has revealed, among other things, that Konami is planning to bring the Metal Gear Solid HD Collection to PC in the near future. That should be exciting news for anyone who saw me stumble through the original MGS on Youtube. Of course, Verendus’s track record isn’t perfect, so this may not come to pass. If it does though, hopefully it does well enough to get Konami to consider porting over some of their other HD collections. Like, Zone of the Enders, perhaps?

But first, it’s rule time. You probably know the drill by now, I’ve been using these rules from the get-go (and if you’re not familiar with these lists, take a look at some of my old ones. There’s some good stuff on there.) My lists stick mostly to third-party companies (aside from Microsoft) with a general focus on companies that have recently released games on PC. Games will be taken from the seventh (360/Wii/PS3) and eighth (WiiU/PS4/XBO) generations of video games, as well as handhelds from those eras and mobile games. Games that weren’t system exclusives are preferred. Finally, games from the same series released on the same console can be packaged together on a single list entry. Well, that was relatively painless, now to hit you with some games.

Bionic Commando Rearmed 2 – Capcom (360/PS3)

This one’s been a long time coming. Sure, Bionic Commando was never really my favorite Capcom franchise, but this game’s omission from PC just seems weird. Mainly because the original Rearmed (as well as the 2009 reboot it was made to promote) actually did receive PC ports around their initial releases. Granted, lately Capcom has been on a bit of a re-release spree with some of their older titles (specifically Resident Evil 4, the GameCube remake and there are rumors that even RE0 will be hitting PC, current and last-gen consoles). So maybe there’s still a chance for this wrong to be righted.

‘Splosion Man – Microsoft Studios/Twisted Pixel Games (360)

Then there’s ‘Splosion Man, which has the opposite issue: its sequel got a late port to PC (as well as iOS and Windows Phone) back in 2013, but the original has yet to appear on the platform. I guess I can kind of understand why, but it just seems like a missed opportunity here. Though the gameplay mechanics in both games are pretty much identical, that basically means that Ms. ‘Splosion Man was, more or less, a level pack for the original. So, by that logic, releasing the original game would just mean more levels, right? Maybe throw in Comic Jumper and make it a two-pack or something.

Guardian Heroes – Sega/Treasure (360)

I’ve always been a pretty big fan of beat-‘em-ups: those side-scrolling fighting games where you whale countless goons that saw their heyday in the Arcade and during the 16-bit era of gaming. I’m also a pretty big fan of action-RPGs, to the point where there are times that I argue they’re the only kind of RPG worth making. So it’s kind of a shame that I never got to play 1996’s Guardian Heroes during its original release on the Sega Saturn. Fortunately, 15 years later, it got a high-definition re-release on Xbox Live Arcade, with the addition of online multiplayer, an expanded competitive mode (12 players instead of 6), Arcade Mode (a new mode, where you fight a never-ending barrage of enemies) and the option to use the original Sega Saturn gameplay or an updated “remix” version that adds many new gameplay mechanics. Too bad it’s going to be lost to the ages, once the Xbox 360 is discontinued. Of course, it doesn’t have to end like that: just port that sucker to the PC, maybe beef up the netcode and let gamers enjoy the game for the foreseeable future.

…what? It’s worth a shot. Considering how well Valkyria Chronicles sold, anything’s possible.

Double Dragon Trilogy – Million/DotEmu (iOS/Android)

Speaking of beat-‘em-ups, it would be remiss of me not to talk about the Double Dragon Trilogy. I was recently able to pick it up on my Android phone, due to some bonus Amazon coins I had lying around. I’ve got to be honest with you, the ports of these arcade classics were definitely worth the $3 they were charging for it on Amazon. They functioned about as well as the original arcade versions (granted, touch controls kinda suck) and managed to include an additional “story mode”, which I believe simply added a stage select which allows you to go to stages that you were able to previously reach. They also added in remixed music for the first two games. Considering their work on the PC versions of Metal Slug X and 3, I’m sure DotEmu could even easily throw in online multi-player: the one major thing the mobile version lacked in my opinion.

(Ha! Looks like history does repeat itself sometimes. Just like how Double Dragon Neon was officially announced for PC, this was actually announced for release before the article even posted. At first it was announced for GOG.com, but it was confirmed for Steam yesterday.)

KoF Sky Stage/Neo Geo Heroes: Ultimate Shooting – SNK Playmore (AC/360)/(PSP)

These are two odd games, but they still sound worth playing all over again. They’re both shmups where you play as various SNK characters, most of which come from the King of Fighters series. So basically, you play as Kyo Kusanagi, Kula Diamond, Terry Bogard or some other KoF character, flying around and shooting bullets at various enemies. On the surface, it sounds ridiculous (and it is), but it also looks incredibly damn fun.

Tekken Revolution – Bandai Namco (PS3/PS4)

So, as I said earlier, Katsuhiro Harada has been teasing the potential of Tekken 7 hitting PC when it’s released on home consoles. Of course, there’s also speculation that the port’s existence will be determined by how well other fighting games on the platform sell. Perhaps the best way to gauge interest in Tekken 7 on PC would be to release some other Tekken game on there. I mentioned Tekken Tag Tournament 2 back in my first list and that would still be my first choice for another Tekken game on PC. However, that’s not our only choice: the free-to-play title Tekken Revolution is not only more recent than Tag 2, but its gameplay is also speculated to be incredibly close to Tekken 7’s. Of course, the game’s got a strike against it, as it is free-to-play, but that could also work to its advantage. After all, the price is right, especially if Bandai Namco outright admits that the statistics will impact future releases.

Disgaea series – Nippon Ichi (PSP/PS3/PSV)

I was recently able to complete the first Disgaea on PS2 in a web stream a couple of months ago. Frankly, I enjoyed it, except for one thing: streaming a PS2 game from my PS3 was a colossal pain in the ass. Recently, Nippon Ichi announced that they were releasing Disgaea 5 exclusively for PlayStation 4 and if it doesn’t meet their sales targets, Nippon Ichi Software may close down. Needless to say, this isn’t a sound strategy, especially given PS4’s sales penetration in Nippon Ichi’s major market.

Of course, Nippon Ichi’s North American branch has published a few games on Steam, but these aren’t internally developed. However, given the fact that Hyperdimension Neptunia Re;Birth 1 & 2 and Fairy Fencer F (all of which were published by NIS America in North America) are all headed to Steam in the near future, this may be an indication that NIS America may be taking a larger role in expanding Nippon Ichi’s audience, not unlike how XSEED handled development for the various Ys ports that have appeared on Steam.

Of course, if any of this happens, I’d personally prefer it if they based any PC ports of Disgaea games on the portable incarnations, the PSP/Vita versions. I’d prefer these versions because they include a great deal of additional content and all of the DLC from the earlier, console versions in the base game. I’m sure I’m not alone on that one.

Black Knight Sword – Grasshopper Manufacture (360/PS3)

My quest to get every single Suda51 game on PC continues. It’s a crying shame that Shadows of the Damned was an EA game, so showing up on Steam is an impossibility at this point. Diabolical Pitch is a Kinect game, so that would be a somewhat pointless port. Let It Die isn’t even out yet, and it’s a free-to-play title. So our best contender for another Grasshopper Manufacture game to be ported to Steam is Black Knight Sword: a 2D platformer with a graphical style reminiscent of medieval European tapestries. Apparently, it’s a bit clunky, but supposedly that just sort of fits with the gameplay. If it’s as “clunky” as other Suda51 games like No More Heroes, Killer is Dead and Lollipop Chainsaw, then I’d totally be alright with that.

Castlevania: Harmony of Despair – Konami (360/PS3)

Harmony of Despair isn’t your typical Castlevania game. It was an interesting little experiment: a multiplayer Metroidvania where a group of up to six players (or 4, in the PS3-exclusive local multiplayer mode) join forces to topple a short stage, followed by a massive boss. The really unique thing about it is that you get to choose from a variety of characters from older Metroidvanias: Jonathan and Charlotte from Portrait of Ruin, Shanoa from Order of Ecclesia, Soma Cruz from the Sorrow games and even Alucard from Symphony of the Night. Better still, each character had palette swaps in case multiple people in your group wanted to use the same character. Porting this sucker to PC (with all the additional DLC content included in the base package) would be pretty awesome.

Deathsmiles – Cave (AC/360/iOS/Android)

How about we finish this list with another Cave shmup, for old times’ sake? Deathsmiles was actually the first Cave shoot-‘em-up released on North American consoles back in 2010 and unlike many of their famous games, this is a horizontal-oriented game. Story’s not important, but if you’re put off by little anime girls in skimpy outfits, you may want to skip this one. The gameplay, however, is solid and that’s what really matters with this genre of games. Steam’s got a pretty good shmup line-up at this point, but there’s always room for improvement.

Another two months, another list of 10 games. Seems a little old hat at this point, doesn’t it? Well, don’t worry, this March I’m going to be doing something a little more unconventional when it comes to this list, breaking some rules and all that noise. Aside from that, I’ve only got one traditional list left in the pipeline. After that, who knows?  I mean, SNES Master KI has joked that these lists are cursed: that only 10% of the games I list on here will ever make it on. He’s not exactly wrong, but hell, that just makes me want to go on forever.

Retronaissance’s Most Anticipated Games of 2015

SNES Master KI

Before I get to the honorable mentions, I have to acknowledge two games I jumped the gun on last year.  Xenoblade Chronicles X and Yoshi’s Wooly World were on my 2014 list (under their codenames), and would have definitely made this list if it weren’t for that.

Honorable Mentions

Shantae: Half-Genie Hero

Publisher/Developer: WayForward
Platform: PC, Wii U, PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, PlayStation Vita, Xbox 360, Xbox One
Release Date: 2015

I haven’t gotten around to playing the third Shantae yet, but if it’s as big of an improvement over the first two as I’m told, I’m sure I’ll love this one.

The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask 3D

Publisher/Developer: Nintendo/Grezzo
Platform: 3DS
Release Date: Spring 2015

While I don’t love Majora’s Mask as much as a lot of people, it’s still a great game and a remake that could fix some of my problems with it has great potential.

Scalebound

Publisher/Developer: Microsoft Studios/Platinum Games
Platform: Xbox One
Release Date: 2015

I’m almost certainly not going to be able to get this in 2015, but it’s still a Platinum game, and I love Platinum.


10. Code Name: S.T.E.A.M.

Publisher/Developer: Nintendo/Intelligent Systems
Platform: 3DS
Release Date: March 13, 2015

While strategy games aren’t exactly my forte, I’ve managed to get into the ones Nintendo has made, so I’m cautiously optimistic about Codename STEAM.  I’ve managed to not resent it for not being Paper Mario, at least, and am hoping that Nintendo can pull off a real-time/turn based balance that very few games can make work for me.

9. Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater

Publisher/Developer: Activision
Platform: Xbox One, PlayStation 4
Release Date: 2015

The only sports series I’ve ever truly loved (really, it’s more of a combo based platformer), I have wanted the THPS series to return to its THPS4 glory for over a decade now.  While we don’t know anything about this game besides its 2015 release date, I’ve seen series return to form after long dark ages before, and I have faith that it is at least possible for it to happen again.

8. Bloodborne

Publisher/Developer: Sony Computer Entertainment/From Software
Platform: Playstation 4
Release Date: March 24, 2015

I really wanted to like Demon’s Souls, I loved the idea of a massive and ultra-challenging dark fantasy action game.  However, I couldn’t get past the WRPG elements.  Bloodborne’s faster, action game style battle system gives me renewed hope.  I don’t have a PS4 yet, but if this game delivers, it may be what gets me to take the plunge.

7. Rise of the Tomb Raider

Publisher/Developer: Microsoft Studios/Square Enix/Crystal Dynamics
Platform: Xbox One, Xbox 360
Release Date: Holiday 2015

Tomb Raider 2013 was a fantastic revival for the series, I loved it as soon as I played it despite not being into the Tomb Raider series to begin with.  Being able to control your jumps just makes everything feel so much better.  This game would be higher on the list if not for the Xbox timed exclusive issue.  I hate timed exclusives, regardless of whether the system I own is the one which gets them (remember the Resident Evil 4 trolling?).  But I still have faith that this will be a great game, whether I settle for the 360 version or wait until 2016 for the inevitable PS4 release.

6. Splatoon

Publisher/Developer: Nintendo
Platform: Wii U
Release Date: Q2 2015

My initial impression of Splatoon was that it looked interesting, but that I wasn’t going to get hyped until a solid single player mode was confirmed, which I was sure would happen.  Well, it happened, and in time to shoot the game up on this list.  The puzzle/platformer/shooter hybrid gameplay in single player looks great, and easily unique enough to justify this being a new IP.  Maybe people will actually remember this before going into the “Nintendo never makes new IPs” nonsense.

5. Mighty No. 9

Publisher/Developer: Comcept/Inti Creates
Platform: PC, PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, PlayStation Vita, Xbox 360, Xbox One, Wii U, 3DS
Release Date: April 2015

Mega Man will come back.  It is impossible for a series that old and popular to be killed for good, no matter how incompetent Capcom has become.  But in the meantime, Mighty No. 9 should do a great job of filling that void in our hearts.  Inafune is not making any effort to pretend this isn’t a replacement goldfish for Mega Man, and I’m fine with that.  The classic/X hybrid gameplay looks great, the only thing that could make this better is if my joke to troll Icepick came true and Beck was replaced by Mighty Number 10 (but you can call him X) after the first level.

4. Mortal Kombat X

Publisher/Developer: Warner Bros. Games/Netherrealm Studios
Platform: PC. PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, Xbox 360, Xbox One
Release Date: April 14, 2015

Like the aforementioned Tomb Raider 2013, Mortal Kombat 2011 was a fantastic return to form for a long-suffering series.  And unlike Tomb Raider, Mortal Kombat was a series I had plenty of nostalgia for.  All Mortal Kombat X has to do is keep the same solid fighting engine that the series finally achieved, and have the same boatload of single player content, and I’ll be happy.  And thanks to story mode, we can look forward to seeing what happens next in this game, instead of finding out what happened in the previous one.

3. Mario Maker

Publisher/Developer: Nintendo
Platform: Wii U
Release Date: 2015

Now this game is long overdue.  After more than half a decade of the premiere make your own platformer franchise being little on intuition and big on floaty physics, we’re getting a game with intuitive touch screen level design and the perfection of 2D Mario physics.  I can’t wait to make my own levels and play yours, even if we don’t get an expansion pack’s worth of pre-made levels included like I’m hoping.  I’ve already got several level ideas planned for this, and you’ll get to play them.

2. Star Fox Wii U

Publisher/Developer: Nintendo
Platform: Wii U
Release Date: 2015

“Come on Reggie, give us Star Fox!”  Well, he did.  We don’t know much about this game, but Nintendo has been on a roll with game quality lately, so I see no reason not to expect this to be the long overdue return to form for Star Fox.  Not much more to say, but I know I’m not the only one greatly anticipating learning more about this game.

1. The Legend of Zelda Wii U

Publisher/Developer: Nintendo
Platform: Wii U
Release Date: 2015

After a long pseudo-drought where we only got touch-screen controlled Zeldas, the series has come back in a big way with the last couple games (yes, I liked Skyward Sword, and so will you in a couple years).  While the idea of an open-world emphasizing Zelda would have frightened me a few years ago, A Link Between Worlds showed that there is absolutely nothing to worry about.  Like Star Fox, we don’t know a terribly large amount about this game, but I’ve never had more confidence in Nintendo’s game quality.  On November 20th, 2015 (Yes, that’s a guess, but my guesses about release dates for Nintendo’s big Holiday game have a pretty good track record), it’s time to return to Hyrule.

Professor Icepick

While last year was pretty good for video games, I notice that a few of the games I had on this list last year missed their release windows. Oh well, it appears none of them died, due to copious updates. Last year was pretty good (at least for me, AAA market kinda took a hit), here’s hoping 2015 manages to be even better.

Honorable Mentions

Cuphead

Publisher/Developer: Studio MDHR
Platform: PC, Xbox One
Release Date: 2015 

A quirky 2D platformer that takes design cues from classic black & white cartoons.

The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask 3D

Publisher/Developer: Nintendo/Grezzo
Platform: 3DS
Release Date: Spring 2015

A long-awaited enhanced port of a classic Zelda title for the Nintendo 64.

Hyper Light Drifter

Publisher/Developer: Heart Machine
Platform: PC, PlayStation 4, PlayStation Vita, Xbox One, Wii U, Ouya
Release Date: Early 2015

A top-down 2D action-RPG that draws inspiration from both A Link to the Past and Diablo II.

Timespinner

Publisher/Developer: Lunar Ray Games
Platform: PC, PlayStation 4, PlayStation Vita, 3DS
Release Date: November 2015

A SNES-inspired Metroid-like that takes cues from games like MegaMan X and Symphony of the Night.


10. Axiom Verge

Publisher/Developer: Tom Happ/Sony Computer Entertainment
Platform: PC, PlayStation 4, PlayStation Vita
Release Date: 2015

So let’s start things off with an indie game you may not have heard of. Axiom Verge is unique as it is being developed by a single man: Tom Happ, who previously worked on such high profile titles as Tiger Woods and NFL Street. The game’s development started as a part-time hobby back in March 2010 and the game is finally approaching completion. It’s an exploration platformer that takes cues from games like Metroid, Contra and Blaster Master. It’s also got a really nice looking 8-bit aesthetic that is somehow simultaneously simple and detailed.

9. Tekken 7

Publisher/Developer: Namco Bandai
Platform: Arcade
Release Date: February 2015

I’ve actually been playing the Tekken games since the original one hit arcades back in the mid-90s, and despite a few missteps (Tekkens 4 & 6, respectively), the latest major release in the series, Tekken Tag Tournament 2, was incredible. T7 appears to be going in another new direction, removing TTT2’s bound system and adding “Rage Arts”, which are basically super combos. These trends worry me a little, but I’m still anticipating the game, especially as this may finally be the first Tekken to hit PCs when it is released for the home market.

8. Citizens of Earth

Publisher/Developer: Atlus USA/Eden Industries
Platform: PC, PlayStation 4, PlayStation Vita, Wii U, 3DS
Release Date: January 20, 2015

I’ve mentioned in the past that Nintendo’s Earthbound is one of the few traditional turn-based RPGs I like, due to its unique setting, clever writing and quirky variations on JRPG gameplay. When Eden Industries (made up of ex-members of Next Level Games) announced Citizens of Earth, I’ll admit, I was a little excited. Mostly because this probably the closest thing to another Earthbound we’ll ever see in the West. Alas, their initial crowdfunding campaign failed, but Atlus USA stepped in and funded the game themselves. Citizens of Earth places you in the role of the Vice President of the World, who recruits friends, family and other citizens to help him campaign for re-election, allowing for a unique party system where various members have different unique abilities.

7. Code Name: S.T.E.A.M.

Publisher/Developer: Nintendo/Intelligent Systems
Platform: 3DS
Release Date: March 13, 2015

Code Name S.T.E.A.M. was one of those games I just loved at first sight. With an awesome steampunk setting, an aesthetic inspired by American comic books and a unique battle system that harkens back to Valkyria Chronicles’ turn-based strategy/third-person shooter hybrid gameplay, this game just looks amazing to me. Considering the fact that you’re fighting off an alien invasion with famous characters from literature under the leadership of Abraham Lincoln with anachronistic steam-powered technology makes it even cooler. It’s got such a ridiculous premise, I can’t help but love it. Here’s hoping the game lives up to its potential though, but with Intelligent Systems handling development, I’m sure it’ll be a blast.

6. Splatoon

Publisher/Developer: Nintendo
Platform: Wii U
Release Date: Q2 2015

Speaking of new Nintendo IPs, Splatoon’s a definite departure from what we’ve come to expect from the Big N. Debuting at E3 2014 as a 4-on-4 third-person shooter, the game’s colorful and vibrant artstyle was interesting. Competing with your opponents to cover more of the stage with your ink, it’s an interesting twist on traditional multiplayer shooters. What made the game even more palatable for me was the announcement of an extended single-player campaign. Definitely can’t wait to see how this one turns out.

5. Kirby and the Rainbow Curse

Publisher/Developer: Nintendo/HAL Laboratory
Platform: Wii U
Release Date: February 13, 2015

This was one of the biggest surprises I had all year. Kirby: Canvas Curse was one of the most interesting games on the Nintendo DS and I always figured it was going to be a one-hit wonder. Lo and behold, Nintendo decided to make a sequel on the Wii U of all things. Better still, they decided to use a really cool claymation aesthetic, which I fell in love with at first sight. Better still, it’s heavily rumored that this is going to be a $40 title like Captain Toad. At that price, how could I resist?

4. Yoshi’s Woolly World

Publisher/Developer: Nintendo/Good-Feel
Platform: Wii U
Release Date: Spring 2015

I’ll be honest: when this game was first announced as “Yarn Yoshi”, I was incredibly skeptical about it, as every single follow-up to the SNES classic Yoshi’s Island has been mediocre at best. However, as I saw more footage of the game and learned of Good-Feel’s involvement, I became excited, mainly because of how much Woolly World began to resemble Kirby’s Epic Yarn as development progressed. Of course, then there was that long period of radio silence where I feared the game had been cancelled, but fortunately more news eventually came and the game was confirmed for release in 2015. After so many years of waiting, it looks like Yoshi’s Island is finally getting a worthy sequel and I can’t wait.

3. Shantae: Half-Genie Hero

Publisher/Developer: WayForward
Platform: PC, Wii U, PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, PlayStation Vita, Xbox 360, Xbox One
Release Date: 2015

Another of my Kickstarter darlings, Half-Genie Hero is the fourth game in the Shantae series. For the longest time, I was merely a fan of Shantae from afar: I had only played a small portion of the original. This past year, however, I beat all three games in the series: the first on 3DS’s Virtual Console, the second in its recent Director’s Cut re-release on Steam, and the third on 3DS. Of course, HGH is going to be an entirely different animal, with hand-drawn HD graphics instead of traditional sprite work. This is also going to be the first time the series isn’t released on a Nintendo handheld and the first time it will appear on Playstation and Xbox systems. While the 2015 date isn’t solid, Wayforward has recently confirmed the scope of the project and is hard at work, delivering another amazing product.

(Oh, by the way, I know this was on my list last year, despite missing 2014 entirely. Let’s just retroactively give that spot to Pirate’s Curse, which for some reason, I thought was going to make its 2013 release window. …in January 2014.)

2. Mortal Kombat X

Publisher/Developer: Warner Bros. Games/Netherrealm Studios
Platform: PC. PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, Xbox 360, Xbox One
Release Date: April 14, 2015

As you may very well know by now, I’m a huge fan of 2D fighting games. Unfortunately, there aren’t that many games in that genre in 2015 that have been announced that aren’t either expansions of existing games, Japan-exclusive “doujin” titles or recent Kickstarters that may not hit their release targets. Fortunately, Netherrealm Studios has got my back. We’ve seen them blossom into a truly skilled developer in 2011’s Mortal Kombat, watched as they experimented with new system mechanics in 2013’s Injustice: Gods Among Us, and are looking to deliver a truly glorious experience in their upcoming Mortal Kombat X. With each character being split into 3 variations, each with different strengths and unique abilities, plus stage interactions returning from Injustice, MKX is shaping up to be a truly amazing game. I just hope the PC port is more stable than the previous NRS releases, whether it’s done by High Voltage Software or a new team altogether. Their previous ports crash my current laptop, despite being powerful enough to run the games (albeit on low settings).

1. Mighty No. 9

Publisher/Developer: Comcept/Inti Creates
Platform: PC, PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, PlayStation Vita, Xbox 360, Xbox One, Wii U, 3DS
Release Date: April 2015

Does this really surprise anyone? I’ve been mooning over this game ever since it was first announced. By the time it comes out next year, we’ll have gone half a decade without a new MegaMan release from Capcom (the last game they actually managed to release was 2010’s MegaMan 10). I think we’re long overdue for some classic run-and-gun platforming. Though the game’s development has been marred by some controversy (especially with regards to “slacker backing” additional content like voice acting and an additional stage as future DLC), I’m still incredibly excited to see the final project in action.