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.

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?

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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.

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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.

 

Retrospective: The Legend of Zelda – Part I

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Welcome to the first in a sporadic series of retrospectives I’m planning on doing. Considering that The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild releases today, it seems only fitting that I start with the Zelda franchise. This is, by no means, a complete look back on the entire series. While I do plan a follow-up in the future to round out the remainder of the series, as of right now I’ve only played through many but not all of the Zelda games. In addition to the ones listed below, I’ve also managed to play Skyward Sword and A Link Between Worlds. So, given the fact that I’ve played what could potentially be considered the first half of the Zelda franchise – a bit less, honestly – I figured I might as well cover my thoughts on the franchise’s early days in honor of its latest release. Continue reading

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.

 

Retronaissance’s Most Anticipated Games of 2017

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Well, 2016 is almost over, and while there were some great games released, I mainly just want this year to end and to focus on the future (or gaming’s future, anyway).  Thankfully, 2017 in gaming fills me with a sense of true optimism (as opposed to forced hope) that I haven’t had in a long time, lots of series that haven’t had an entry (or a satisfying entry) in years are returning and while Nintendo has a lot less representation on this list than my ones from previous years, things should Switch on that front very early in the year.  So, let’s hurry up and get our focus to the new year.  I’ve decided to handle games from previous lists that got hit by delays with a rule that games can only appear on my lists twice, so Zelda won’t be showing up this time.  Let’s get this started!

Continue reading

Spinoff Sideshow: The Zelda of Legend

I don’t know why, but it seems like I have this tendency to start new series on Retronaissance, and despite my efforts to continue them, it just never seems to pan out for me. At best, it seems like I just come up with new series that seem like new takes on older ones, almost like a spinoff. With that awkward segue, I bring you yet another series, which hopefully won’t meet the same fate as those others: Spinoff Sideshow – where I will be detailing potential spinoffs for existing video game franchises that just strike me as interesting.

Video games are one of those rare mediums where sequels generally have the potential to exceed their predecessors. Likewise, they have a tendency to be the rare genre where spinoffs can truly deliver a unique experience, as opposed to just being the same ol’-same ‘ol in a new locale or a weak vehicle for the breakout character of an existing property. Throughout my time gaming, I’ve seen my fair share of interesting spinoffs – games that do more than just regurgitate the standard formula and slap a new character on the front (granted, some of those are pretty good, like UmJammer Lammy or MegaMan & Bass). However, I personally prefer to see games that feel like a totally new experience, merely using the existing intellectual properties to make the sale. I’m talking about games like Luigi’s Mansion, The Misadventures of Tron Bonne, Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker, Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance and Mortal Kombat: Shaolin Monks.

Our inaugural topic for this series? Well, people have been asking for an official Zelda-led Zelda title for quite some time now. Zelda’s playable appearance in Hyrule Warriors managed to stoke the flames of demand for that one and even Eiji Aonuma, current producer of the Zelda franchise, has expressed interest in such a title. I’ve seen some fan proposals for a game across the internet, most prominently one that turns my stomach by reducing Zelda to a gender-and-palette-swapped Link, stripping the character of her unique properties. Personally, I think I can do better than the others.

First of all, let’s consider the name. Since most people associate Link with the “Legend of Zelda” game, I’d avoid using it. Personally, I’d probably go for “Hyrule Historia” or “Legend of Hyrule”. Though if you want to make sure that Zelda’s name is in the title, we could go with “The Zelda of Legend”. I mean, it’s clever in a not-really clever way. I would personally go for a Hyrule-related name personally.

Now onto the real meat of this spinoff, the gameplay. The basic concept is simple – think of a traditional Zelda game with less of an emphasis on melee combat, focusing instead on slower, ranged combat and stealth. Obviously, the puzzles would also be kept, but Zelda would have a completely different moveset when compared to Link. While Link mostly utilizes on his Master Sword for combat, Zelda would instead mainly use light arrows (which are commonly associated with her) and other forms of magic. After all, we’ve seen Zelda cast various magic spells when acting as an NPC and in playable appearances in other games, such as Hyrule Warriors and especially the Super Smash Bros. games. For example, I could see using her Naryu’s Love attack from Smash to reflect projectiles back at enemies (a common strategy for taking down Zelda bosses) and Din’s Fire could be a potential replacement for bombs and the lantern.

My consideration for the most important aspect of Zelda’s arsenal is something that should be familiar to Zelda aficionados: transformations. After all, Zelda’s had more than her fair share of disguises in previous games, most of which gave her access to brand new powers and abilities. Now, the following examples are just that – examples – but hopefully, they’ll still provide some context. First, there’s the obvious pick, Zelda’s most famous alter-ego: Sheik, the stealthy Sheikah warrior. When disguised as Sheik, Zelda’s stealth abilities would increase and she’d be given access to new attacks. Another form that comes to mind would be Tetra from The Wind Waker, which would allow for direct melee combat, perhaps replacing magical skill for the cutlass and pistol she wielded in Hyrule Warriors Legends. The last concept I had for a transformation would be a monster transformation, not unlike how Zelda possessed a Phantom in Spirit Tracks. This ability would be entirely defensive, unable to attack, but in return, Zelda would be able to walk through dungeons without being attacked by monsters, even gaining the ability to talk to them not unlike the Power of Alter from Ys II, effectively adding a new dimension to the stealth gameplay I mentioned before – hiding in plain sight. This “Phantom” form would also be large, thus able to move certain objects, making it indispensable when it comes to solving specific puzzles.

As I said earlier, puzzles would be a key element for this game, to the extent where there would even be ways to obtain specific items or defeat enemies with little problem by utilizing certain items to solve puzzles. Likewise, the magic and transformations I mentioned earlier would count as dungeon items. Better yet, a Zelda-led spinoff could be the perfect opportunity to experiment with the standard Zelda items, modifying them to some extent. One of the ideas I came up with would be replacing the various effects of the Ocarina/Harp and various rods in the game with minor spells that could be found throughout the overworld map and dungeons, imbuing Zelda with control over fire and ice, the ability to fling herself into the air and to warp to various locations. Another idea would be to bring back old items that haven’t resurfaced in Zelda games in quite some time, like the Cane of Somaria, the Roc’s Cape or the Magnetic Gloves. Zelda could also utilize standard items in unique ways – for example, placing the Mirror Shield would allow Zelda to set up angled shots for her Light Arrows to hit a specific target placed at an angle she couldn’t hit directly. Finally, while I would like to keep Zelda’s standard form’s ability for melee combat limited to distinguish her from Link, I would also like to see the Rapier from Hyrule Warriors emerge in the game at some point, likely as a very-late game item, possibly even in the final dungeon.

Of course, one of the more important elements of the Zelda series with regards to its fanbase has been the story. I’d pretty much leave this blank for the most part, but in spite of the focus that has been placed upon the Zelda timelines, I feel like the stories work best when they come up with the storyline first and try to place in within the timeline later, as opposed to just trying to work a game into a specific point in a specific timeline. I guess this could be in the Adult Link timeline, you know, the one where the Hero of Time disappears? That’s my best guess off the top of my head.

I guess there are still two elephants in the room: what to do with Zelda’s most commonly recurring co-stars – Link and Ganon(dorf). I’m of two minds about Link. On one hand, leaving him out would probably be a far more suitable situation for Zelda taking charge in her own adventure. Likewise, this would also likely cement my suggestion for setting the game in “The Era Without a Hero”. On the other hand, it might be interesting to see Zelda react to a standard incarnation of Link, perhaps she could view him as her rival – not wanting to fall into the traditional role of damsel in distress her eponymous ancestors commonly fell into and instead choosing to save Hyrule all on her own. As for Ganondorf, personally, I wouldn’t mind seeing a different final villain, especially one that could be original to Zelda’s story. Unfortunately, there’s the argument that could be made that saddling Zelda with anyone besides the Great King of Evil, pig demon or not, would likely delegitimize her adventures. I’d consider this a shame, but I can see the argument for making Ganon(dorf) the big bad.

As for the game’s style, for some reason I’ve always pictured this game as more of a 3D game, as you may have been able to guess by my write-up. Having said that, a 2D game could be interesting as well, though aside from A Link Between Worlds, those games have a reputation for being low-rate handheld titles when compared to the 3D games that commonly originate on consoles. Regarding a second quest, I mean that’s a Zelda staple, so it seems like it would be a perfect choice. Instead of just making it a mirrored hard mode, however, I’d like to see an alternate playable character. My personal pick would be Impa, though I’m sure there could be other worthy characters. Having said that, being a Zelda-centered game would be a good excuse to throw in a little fanservice – I know what you’re thinking I mean, but you’re wrong. I mean Nintendo should make the effort to throw in some popular side characters from earlier games into the setting of Zelda’s adventure, whether in the form of identical descendants/ancestors or just extremely similar counterparts.

I’ve always considered the idea of a Zelda-led game to be more interesting than the common request to just “make Link a girl”, due to the simple fact that Zelda’s unique ability set would lead to a far more interesting game in the interest of “promoting diversity” than simply giving Link a pair of X chromosomes ever could. I’ll be honest, the latter always struck me as lazy pandering. Hopefully, Nintendo decides to do a Zelda-led game at some point in the future, either as a fully-featured console title or even as an eShop pilot title which could lead to a full-fledged expansion in the future.

You Just Might Get It

Over the past year, we have seen a significant uptake in confirmations for long-awaited titles with a significant amount of fan demand. Square Enix is finally making a full remake of Final Fantasy 7, Capcom is at work on a remake of Resident Evil 2, Yu Suzuki is finally free to work on the long-awaited Shenmue III and Sony even revived The Last Guardian, a project many had assumed dead (myself included). We’ve also seen Half-Life 3 listed on a Steam database leak that included many other titles which have since been confirmed. Even last month, there have been some rumblings from some very reliable sources that Nintendo may finally be releasing Mother 3 outside of Japan, which is what led me to reflect on all of these events in the first place. Is this the beginning of a new renaissance for video games or could this be the beginning of the end of the current era of video games?
Yes, I know that last bit seems a bit like hyperbole, but think about it: many of these titles have been the money shot for companies, the one big thing each publisher could offer that could bring even the most jaded ex-customers evangelize that their once-beloved company has made a complete return to form…assuming all goes according to plan. After all, this isn’t the first time that games once thought impossible or abandoned have resurfaced.
Exhibit A: Duke Nukem Forever. After languishing in development hell for over a decade, DNF finally managed to hit store shelves in 2011. It was met with mostly negative reactions: the gameplay had modernized the wrong aspects, while keeping outdated elements that could use updated; the game’s storyline and humor was considered immature and juvenile at best and downright offensive at worst and some have even claimed that the graphics in the final build look worse than some of the earlier unreleased builds. One of the best examples of the old idiom “be careful what you wish for”, the only things that came out of Duke Nukem Forever’s eventual release were the IP being doomed to being confined to one of the scummiest developers I’ve ever seen since I started playing video games and the fact that it acts as a perfect warning that any dream game can easily be turned into a nightmare given the proper circumstances.
Then again, Duke Nukem Forever was merely a sequel. I’ve pretty much always assumed that remakes are held with even more scrutiny than sequels. A few years back, I wrote that sequels generally had a rough time just due to fanbases never being able to agree on how much or how little a new iteration of a series should change from its predecessors. Yet no one would disagree that a game’s sequel should change at least something. Likewise, very few fans would bemoan borrowing any concepts from the game’s pedigree – unless there were complete shifts in the series’ history and even then, most fans generally have a good idea of what game to use as a base for future games in their series of choice. When dealing with pre-established material, the idea that anything should deviate from the source material is itself a heated topic for debate. Some believe that a remake should closely resemble the original game as much as possible, with the only real alterations being improved graphics and load times. Others believe that a remake is license to fully reimagine the original source material to the point where it becomes unrecognizable. Most gamers fall somewhere between these two extremes and unfortunately, there’s the rub: with an even broader spectrum to play with, there’s an even smaller chance that the developers can make a product that would satisfy the majority of the audience.
We’re already seeing that now with Final Fantasy 7 Remake. When the game was first announced, every fan of the PS1 classic was completely elated, especially after the cruel tease that the Steam port of the original PC version was being ported to PS4 in the first place. Eventually, information began trickling in. Fans were pleased with the early graphics and the exploratory gameplay impressed many. Then Square Enix revealed the battle system: not the Active Time Battle-flavored turn-based system the fans had grown up with, but rather something that looked significantly more real-time and action-oriented. From what I could see online, the fanbase was immediately divided: some kept open minds about the changes, with a few even stating that the new changes looked interesting; while others felt betrayed, saying that Square Enix had turned their backs on them. However, the worst was yet to come – Square Enix then announced that FF7 Remake would be episodic, that is, split into multiple games. The most positive response to that bombshell was cautious optimism, but the majority saw the decision with pure, unadulterated pessimism.
The way I see things, there are two distinct outcomes for these games and they all rely entirely on sales and fan response, critics be damned. The game either hits or exceeds its sales targets or fails to make them by a significant amount. Ironically enough, I’d consider failure to be the more beneficial outcome on these projects. Why, you may ask? It’s nothing against the projects themselves, but if the games themselves fail and the publishers didn’t sink all of their finances on development, then it should be easy enough to regroup and come up with a new project without the hopes and dreams of an entire fanbase resting on its shoulders.
Conversely, let’s say these games are runaway successes. I’ve only got one question for the publishers should that happen: okay, what’s next? Let’s face it, if these games end up succeeding, all these companies (aside from SEGA, I guess, since they’re pretty hands off with Shenmue III) will have blown their loads when it comes to fan service. After all, what do you do for an encore when the most anticipated title in your library finally gets released? Sure, there are definitely other long-awaited titles from many of these companies – the problem is, none of them have quite the same reach as the titles they’ve chosen. Take Square Enix: if FF7 Remake succeeds, then what else can they do? Kingdom Hearts III has already been announced, but it’s currently being held up by FFXV. After that sees release, there’s really nothing with as much appeal – some fans might ask for a remake of FFVI (trust me, I know at least one guy who’s begging for one); others might ask for Squenix to try their hands at another series, Chrono Trigger comes quickly to mind. The problem with any of these projects is that they lack the same consolidated fan response that FF7 Remake has.
Of course, this is all just one man’s opinion – and that man tends to be pessimistic and likes to find the cloud in every silver lining. Maybe I’m wrong to scrutinize the logic behind finally giving the fans what they want, without any potential thought into the repercussions that might have in the long run or at least consideration of what “the next big thing” would be. In fact, I honestly hope I’m wrong. I happen to like most of the companies that are putting their necks on the line and don’t want them to go the way of THQ, all for the sake of a pie in the sky release that has a snowball’s chance in Hell of reaching the immense expectations of a fanbase that’s been salivating over these releases for at least a decade in most cases.

Retronaissance’s Most Anticipated Games of 2016

SNES Master KI

It’s time for another top ten most anticipated games list. 2015 didn’t turn out to be as good for games as I was hoping, and the primary reason for that was delays, so I’m doing things a little differently for this list. The jumped guns from my 2015 list are too numerous and prominent to just exclude, so I’m just going to ignore that list, even if it means some repetition. There’s still new stuff to say about the games, after all. 2016 looks even better than the pre-delays 2015, so let’s get to the list!

10: Pokken Tournament

A Pokemon fighter is long overdue, and one will arrive on Wii U in 2016. I’ve honestly lost track of what year it was when we first saw that teaser clip of an unidentified Pokemon game, but the long journey to a home system is almost over. Despite how obvious it was, I still breathed a sigh of relief when it was confirmed that Pokken Tournament would indeed get a home release. Wii U can definitely use a new fighter, and I’m looking forward to see what kind of bonuses we’ll get in the home version.

9: Ratchet and Clank (PS4)

I love platformers, I’ve made that very clear in my writing. While it feels like most retail platformers we could get in 2016 are in that vapor realm where they aren’t confirmed enough to make it to this list (Sonic’s anniversary game, Mario’s new concept 2D platformer and next 3D platformer), we do have Ratchet and Clank. A reboot of the series, the footage shown so far gives me hope that it will feel like a platformer, and it’s about time PS4 got one of its own (no I don’t remember Knack, and neither do you). Let’s hope it does well enough to give Jak and Sly another chance as well.

8: Ace Attorney 6

Being so story driven, I do no research about Ace Attorney games before playing them, so it’s hard to talk about this one. Regardless, I am very glad that it was confirmed for western release as soon as the game was announced, and I’m hoping the new setting will combat some of the predictability factor that hurt AA5 for me. Not much else to say, at least from me, but very much looking forward to this game.

7: Doom (2016)

I had a revelation during 2015: I love old style first person shooters. I played several Doom games for the first time, and was very happy to see that a new one with a simultaneous console release was already announced. Doom 2016 looks to have more of the fast paced action of the 90s games with some console style conveniences, which sounds great to me. A few years ago this series making my list never would have crossed my mind, but my horizons have been expanded and I can only hope Doom 2016 sparks a revival of FPSes with more enemy variety than “guys with different types of guns!”

6: Shantae: Half-Genie Hero

This made Honorable Mention last year, with me saying that if Shantae and the Pirate’s Curse was as big of an improvement as I had heard, it would have placed higher. Well, Pirate’s Curse was better than I had ever imagined, becoming my favorite WayForward game of all time by a clear margin. So naturally, Half-Genie Hero is much more anticipated by me this year. A sequel that fixes Pirate’s Curse’s only flaw (graphics that were incredibly pixelated in HD) is just what I want, so let’s hope that Half-Genie Hero finally makes it out in 2016.

5: Street Fighter V

It will have been seven years since Street Fighter IV came to consoles when SFV comes out, and somehow this is FASTER than we’re used to for the series. Regardless, Street Fighter V seems to be doing everything right, from the free DLC characters to cross-play that will make things a lot easier for S-Rank. I haven’t been following this game as closely as some people I know, but Ryu will be waiting for me and I’m sure I’ll be able to jump right in and start fighting for the honor of D-Pads and consoles. I just hope I have some idea what the hell is happening in the endings this time.

4: Nier: Automata

This was probably the biggest pleasant shock for me in 2015’s gaming scene. I never expected Nier to get a sequel, and if I somehow did I sure as hell wouldn’t have expected Platinum to help make it. I loved Nier, I love Platinum, this is a match made in Heaven, or possibly a frozen hell. If you didn’t play Nier, it had some of the best RPG real-time combat I had ever seen and an amazing amount of gameplay variety. The combat had a similar feel to pure action games, so Platinum actually making it should make it truly amazing. Square-Enix had a great 2015, but this game is my favorite thing they announced all year.

3: Mario and Luigi: Paper Jam

If there’s a bright side to this game coming out late in NA, it’s that I’ll have Xenoblade X finished before I get this. Oh, and it also means it gets to make one of these lists. I loved Dream Team, and it sounds like Paper Jam is going to fix all the problems with it. More of the great level design and my favorite turn based combat system of all time, with better writing and skippable tutorials? Paper Jam sounds perfect, and you know which Mario and Luigi game it is? The fifth. It looks like my lucky number will come through again (even after 2005 and 2015 kind of shook my faith in it). And I couldn’t do this write-up with referencing paper jam Dipper. Akefhgkjfdgbnk!

2: Star Fox Zero

Yep, the top two (oh come on, you knew what number 1 was as soon as I said I wasn’t disqualifying games that were on last year’s list) are the same as last year. But after the tantrum thrown by people who don’t understand that Nintendo games always look much worse at their reveal than they actually will be, this game still needs love. Platinum is probably my favorite non-Nintendo developer right now, so Platinum and Nintendo working together on this game is pretty freaking awesome. After nearly 20 years of struggling, we are long, long overdue for an action-packed direct sequel to Star Fox 64, and it looks like that’s exactly what we’ll get in April. Never give up, trust your instincts, Nintendo franchises always strike back.

1: The Legend of Zelda (Wii U)

We don’t know much more about this game than we did a year ago, but dammit, what we know is still enough to get me hyped. A Zelda with a huge but more importantly FILLED open world sounds great, but that honestly isn’t why I’m excited for this game. I’m excited for this game because I trust the series and developer, and I don’t see why so many people regard that as a bad thing. Aside from a few games that ironically seem to have been rushed to make sure Zelda Wii U didn’t have to be, Nintendo’s quality level has been extremely high in the past few years, and I see no reason not to expect fantastic things from this game. We’ll probably have to wait two and a half years between this game’s announcement and release, but none of that will matter once we finally have it in our hands.

Honorable Mentions

Uncharted 4

I still have some resentment towards this series for replacing Jak, but my true spite is reserved for The Last of Us. I enjoyed the PS3 Uncharted games, and if Uncharted 4 takes some cues from the current Tomb Raiders, it should be the best one yet.

The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess HD

I love Twilight Princess, the only flaw is that combat is too easy. Just add a hard mode (which most Zeldas have now) and make sure to keep the Wii remote option, and things are perfect.

Final Fantasy XV

Haven’t been following this that closely, but if it has a good combat system and Square-Enix is as redeemed as they appear, this should be a great game. Not much else to say, really.

Shellshock

2015 was a very strange year for video games, and it didn’t leave me with a lot to offer. The games that did come out in 2015 that I’ve played were great, and I couldn’t get enough of them. Now that 2015 is about to end, let’s talk about 2016 and what it has to offer. There’s a lot of games coming out that I’m anticipating; some of them are games that were delayed, and others were announced within the year. Here are my top 10 most anticipated games of 2016.

10. Shantae: Half-Genie Hero

Developer: WayForward Studios
Publisher: WayForward Studios
Platform(s): PC, Playstation 3, Playstation 4, Playstation Vita, Wii U, Nintendo 3DS, XBOX 360, XBOX One
Release Date: Early 2016

Shantae: Half-Genie Hero was originally targeted for 2014, but the game had constant delays due to the extra Stretch Goals that were added. Once again, it makes my list, as I have been playing the Shantae series (sans Pirate’s Curse, which I intend to play at some point). Even though it’s coming to multiple platforms, I will be picking up the Wii U version.

9. Yooka-Laylee

Developer: Playtonic Games
Publisher: Team 17
Platform(s): Wii U, Playstation 4, XBOX One, PC
Release Date: October 2016

I grew up playing Rare’s 3D Platformers on the Nintendo 64, and I enjoyed most of them (mostly the Banjo-Kazooie series). However, I’ve lost interest in Rare soon after Microsoft bought them out, thus ending their partnership with Nintendo. After playing Banjo-Kazooie: Nuts and Bolts on the XBOX 360, I was disgusted with what they did with the series, and thought to myself that Banjo-Kazooie is dead. Needless to say, I’m not the only one who felt that way.

Playtonic games is a company made up of former Rare staff members, especially most of the key members who worked on the original Banjo-Kazooie. Yooka-Laylee is a spiritual successor to the Banjo-Kazooie games in many ways, but it also has elements from other games, such as Donkey Kong Country and Donkey Kong 64. I’m really looking forward to this game, as I would love to help keep the spirit of the old Rare alive!

8. Mighty No. 9

Developer: Comcept, Inti Creates, Abstraction Games (3DS/Vita)
Publisher: Comcept (Digital), Deep Silver (Retail)
Platform(s): Wii U, Nintendo 3DS, Playstation 4, Playstation 3, Vita, XBOX One, XBOX 360, PC
Release Date: February 9, 2016 (Retail), February 12, 2016 (Digital)

Another repeat offender on my list, as this game keeps getting delayed over time. Thankfully, there is a guaranteed release date, as it’s going to be released on February 9th in Retail, and February 12th digitally across all platforms. Now as far as this game goes, I’m still excited for it, and anything that plays like Mega Man and the Mega Man X series makes me happy.

7. Street Fighter V

Developer: Capcom, Dimps
Publisher: Capcom
Platform(s): Playstation 4, PC
Release Date: February 16, 2016

Street Fighter V is the latest installment in the Street Fighter series. While Street Fighter IV (and its subsequent updates) provided a mix of nostalgia for Street Fighter II with a brand new look and feel to the series, Street Fighter V has a bit of Street Fighter Alpha and Street Fighter III added to the mix, with tons of new things to make it stand out from the rest. There will be a starting cast of seventeen characters (twelve of them are returning, and five of them are brand new), with other characters coming at a later date.

What gets me excited about this game is that Charlie and R. Mika, who are among my favorite Street Fighter Alpha characters, make their return to the series in Street Fighter V. Other characters, such as Birdie, Urien and Karin, are excellent additions and it’s nice to see them back after being absent for years. We also have new takes on other returning characters, and the newer characters seem very interesting. I tried the demo at New York Comic Con this year, and I thought it was a major improvement from Street Fighter IV. I’m definitely looking forward to playing this game!

6. Mario & Luigi: Paper Jam

Developer: AlphaDream
Publisher: Nintendo
Platform(s): Nintendo 3DS
Release Date: January 22, 2016

Announced at E3, Mario & Luigi: Paper Jam is the fifth installment in the Mario & Luigi series. This game is a crossover between Mario & Luigi and the Paper Mario series, where both worlds collide. You take control of Mario, Luigi, and Paper Mario to take on both Bowser and Paper Bowser, and their respective armies running rampant across the Mushroom Kingdom. Gameplay is identical to that of the Mario & Luigi series, but you now press the Y Button in Battle to control Paper Mario’s Actions.

Since this game has the quirkiness and the humor from both the Mario & Luigi and the Paper Mario series, this is definitely something I am looking forward to. I still need to beat Partners in Time (which I’m not really a fan of) before tackling the others, then finally making my way to this game.

5. Project X Zone 2

Developer: Monolith Soft, Banpresto
Publisher: Bandai Namco Games
Platform(s): Nintendo 3DS
Release Date: February 16, 2016

I was surprised to see that Bandai Namco Games sign on for a sequel to Project X Zone. There are a lot more characters you control in this game, from Bandai Namco, Sega, Capcom, and now Nintendo! Fire Emblem Awakening’s Chrom and Lucina and Xenoblade Chronicles’ Fiora join the cast. Other series new to Project X Zone 2 are Shinobi, Strider, Ace Attorney, Shenmue, Soul Calibur, Yakuza, and even Segata Sanshiro himself, among others, are represented here.

This game retains the character turn based gameplay from its predecessor, but what interests me about this game is that you now have a full player turn, where you control all of your characters, and an enemy turn, where all the enemies are controlled, as opposed to a random character turn. This is another Strategy RPG that I will happily add to my Nintendo 3DS library, and I look forward to playing every second of it!

4. Pokken Tournament

Developer: Bandai Namco Games
Publisher: Nintendo/The Pokémon Company
Platform(s): Wii U
Release Date: Q2 2016

I’m a huge fan of the Pokémon series, and I do enjoy playing Tekken, so this definitely works for me! Pokken Tournament has a fighting style where you roam around in an arena, performing multiple combos on your opponents, and unleashing an inner power (some of the Pokemon will become a Mega-Evolution) with a Resonance Gauge, allowing you to use Special Attacks. You can also summon assist Pokémon to help you out.

I got to try the arcade version of this game at Dave & Busters in NYC, and I’m impressed with the gameplay. It feels different from Tekken, but then again, with Pokémon, it works! This is one of my must-have games for 2016, and I cannot wait to play this!

3. Star Fox Zero

Developer: Nintendo EPD, Platinum Games
Publisher: Nintendo
Platform(s): Wii U
Release Date: April 22, 2016

Originally set for a 2015 release, Star Fox Zero goes back to its roots from the Star Fox (SNES) and Star Fox 64 days, with tons of new features, as well as scrapped ideas from Star Fox 2. This isn’t a remake, nor is it a prequel to the original Star Fox, but it is a new installment, nonetheless. There isn’t much dialogue revealed, but the gameplay is exactly as a Star Fox game should be. I got to try this out at Nintendo World Store during the E3 week, and I was impressed! The Gamepad controls takes time to get used to, but once I do, I will enjoy myself!

2. Fire Emblem Fates

Developer: Intelligent Systems
Publisher: Nintendo
Platform(s): Nintendo 3DS
Release Date: February 19, 2016

I’ve enjoyed Fire Emblem Awakening when it was released in 2013, as I was craving for a Fire Emblem on 3DS at the time. I was heavily excited when Nintendo announced Fire Emblem Fates on the January 2015 Nintendo Direct. As soon as more details popped up, I was curious about having two different versions, and the first thing that popped up my mind was “So is this going to be Fire Emblem meets Pokémon now?”, but as it turns out, it’s part of the game’s story.

It starts off similarly on both versions, but after a certain point, you take a completely different path. Once you do take that path, you stick to it throughout the entire game. There is also a downloadable expansion, which serves as the game’s conclusion. This is probably the biggest story in any Fire Emblem game yet, and I look forward to February 19th!


 

Honorable Mentions

Before I talk about what’s number one, I’d like to talk about my honorable mentions. These games are what I’m looking forward to, but not as much as the games on this list, and as a result, they make this short list.

Bravely Second (Nintendo, Square Enix), Hyper Light Drifter (Heart Machine), Cuphead (Studio MDHR), Genei Ibun Roku #FE (Atlus, Nintendo)


 

1. The Legend of Zelda (Wii U)

Developer: Nintendo EAD
Publisher: Nintendo
Platform(s): Wii U
Release Date: Holiday 2016

Another repeat offender, but there’s a reason for that. Eiji Aonuma needed more time for development of this game, so it’s slated for Holiday 2016 for now. We haven’t seen much of this, but what little I’ve seen is enough for me to put this on the number one spot. I am going to love moving around in an open world setting, and exploring new dungeons. We’ll see at E3 as to what’s going on with this game, and what else it has to offer.

And there we have it, my Most Anticipated games of 2016. It seems like 2016 will be a bigger year for video games, seeing as how we’re going to see the NX for the very first time, and how will it stack up against the competition. There’s a lot to look forward to, and I’m ready to take that ride!


 

Professor Icepick

Well, 2015 was a decent year for the most part. Sure, we got some good releases, but what I got out of it was more hope for the future. A lot of key titles were announced, and while most of them won’t hit until after 2016, it’s still important to look forward. On the plus side, all but 2 of my picks from last year actually hit this time around. Not bad, if you ask me.

10. The King of Fighters XIV

Publisher/Developer: SNK Playmore
Platform: PS4 (maybe more?)
Release Date: 2016

I’m going to be honest, I’ve been hard on the latest KoF game since it was first announced. After all, it would be hard to top the Playmore era’s magnum opus after SNK went back into hibernation for a few years. Then there was the Chinese buyout, which worried me somewhat at first, as I feared a shift from pachinko machines to mobile games. Worst of all was the first trailer: everything about it reminded me of the Maximum Impact games. But as time went on, especially after the latest trailer from the PlayStation Experience, the game’s look began to improve. It’s not quite at hype levels yet, but considering that it boasts a 50-character roster at launch (Mortal Kombat X only managed around half that, and it’s the closest competition that comes to mind), I think it’s worth keeping an eye on. Hopefully, the fact that PSX downgraded it to “Playstation 4 Console Exclusive”, as well as the fact that a key executive from SNK Playmore said that their success on Steam was a key reason they got back into game development, means I’ll be able to partake on my platform of choice down the line, hopefully with crossplay.

9. Star Fox Zero

Publisher/Developer: Nintendo/Platinum Games
Platform: Wii U
Release Date: April 22, 2016

If there’s one series that Nintendo fans have been clamoring for, it’s probably Metroid. Then F-Zero. Star Fox is definitely a close third, though. Sure, its legacy has been somewhat marred by various mediocre releases: Star Fox 64 was a tough act to follow. The upcoming Zero, however, looks like it might just do the trick. Co-developed by developer darling Platinum Games (Bayonetta, Madworld, Metal Gear Rising), Zero looks to be bringing Star Fox back to its action roots and is even managing to incorporate the Arwing’s Walker transformation from the cancelled Star Fox 2, among other things. With Platinum on-board and an emphasis on the classic gameplay of the first two games in the series, I’ve got a good feeling that this one might be the game to put Star Fox back on top.

8. Timespinner

Publisher/Developer: Lunar Ray Games
Platform: PC, PlayStation 4, PlayStation Vita, 3DS
Release Date: July 2016

Timespinner was merely an honorable mention last year, but it ended up getting pushed back to 2016, much to my chagrin. One of my Kickstarter darlings from quite some time ago, Timespinner is looking to evoke various classic games like Castlevania: Symphony of the Night and MegaMan X, with a SNES-inspired artstyle. Players take on the role of Lunais, a young woman with the power to control time. After the technologically advanced empire of Lachiem kills her family, she vows revenge, travelling through history to destroy them all. With interesting time manipulation mechanics and solid-looking gameplay, Timespinner looks like it will be worth the wait.

7. Cuphead

Publisher/Developer: Studio MDHR
Platform: PC, Xbox One
Release Date: 2016

Cuphead was also only on my honorable mentions last year, but since then, this game has started looking better and better. A run-and-gun game with nothing but bosses starring two cup-headed inkblots who lost a bet with the devil and are forced to do his bidding. The real star of the game, however, is its beautiful 2D animation that looks like it was ripped straight out of a Max Fleischer cartoon. I thought it was due out last year, but there really wasn’t any solid confirmation on that.

6. Yooka-Laylee

Publisher/Developer: Team17/Playtonic Games
Platform: PC, Wii U, Xbox One, PlayStation 4
Release Date: October 2016

Another one of my Kickstarter darlings, though I’ll be surprised if you haven’t heard about it. Yooka-Laylee is a spiritual successor to Rare’s N64-era platformers. You know, games like Banjo-Kazooie, Conker’s Bad Fur Day and to a lesser extent, Donkey Kong 64. With vibrant character designs and a glorious soundtrack handled by David Wise and Grant Kirkhope, Yooka-Laylee is set to launch at the end of 2016.

5. Doom

Publisher/Developer: Bethesda Softworks/id Software
Platform: PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One
Release Date: Spring 2016

Growing up with only a PC and a Game Gear during my earliest of gaming days wasn’t easy, missing out on some really big titles. Sure, there was the occasional port; some good, some bad, but then there was Doom. Doom was probably the first big mainstream PC gaming phenomenon I actually remember and it was glorious. After Doom II came out, the series went on a long hiatus, only to be revived with the mediocre Doom 3, which tried to retool the game into a pseudo-survival horror game for some reason. Bethesda got its hooks into the series recently, and that’s a good thing: they’re taking Doom back to its crazy, gory but ridiculously cartoony roots. I’m not completely sold on the game just yet: the cinematic kills look like they’ll get tedious after a while and Bethesda doesn’t exactly have the best reputation for releasing games without a hell of a lot of glitches at launch. Still, it looks like it’s going to be good regardless.

4. South Park: The Fractured but Whole

Publisher/Developer: Ubisoft
Platform: PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One
Release Date: 2016

I’ve loved South Park since the show debuted in 1996. I love Paper Mario, so it was pretty much a no-brainer that I’d like The Stick of Truth. When Matt and Trey announced they were working on a sequel at Ubisoft’s E3 conference this year, I was incredibly hyped…and the hype still hasn’t exactly worn off. This time, they’re ditching the fantasy motif and going for something more superhero-related. Considering how awesome the superhero-themed episodes of South Park are and the fact that Matt and Trey are returning to write this one (with more experience under their belts this time), I’ve got some high hopes for this game.

3. Ys VIII: Lacrimosa of Dana

Publisher/Developer: Nihon Falcom
Platform: PlayStation 4, PlayStation Vita
Release Date: Summer 2016 (Japan)

Yeah, I know: Ys VIII will only be hitting Japan in 2016. Regardless, it’s exciting. We haven’t heard a thing about the game since TGS 2014, when it was first announced with that awesome teaser trailer. Then Toyko Xanadu took all of Falcom’s attention and for a while there, I thought Ys 8 might’ve just become vaporware. Fortunately, it’s back and with a release window no less: Summer 2016. Sure, we probably won’t see it hit the States for at least a year or two, but knowing it actually exists is good enough for me.

2. Shantae: Half-Genie Hero

Publisher/Developer: WayForward
Platform: PC, Wii U, PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, PlayStation Vita, Xbox 360, Xbox One
Release Date: 2016

I love me some Shantae, that much you should know by now. For the third consecutive year, Half-Genie Hero makes the list. I’m not sure if it’ll actually hit in 2016, just like I wasn’t sure it would hit in 2014 or 2015. I just feel like keeping the hope alive, especially since development has really gone underway, especially with the release of the limited beta on PC. Nintendo appears to think it’s coming this year though. So there’s that.

1. Street Fighter V

Publisher/Developer: Capcom
Platform:  PlayStation 4, PC
Release Date: February 16, 2016

Pretty obvious, when you think about it. I’ve loved the Street Fighter series since I played the second game on the SNES when I was a child. I’ve gotten my hands on the beta twice and I’ve had fun with it. I’ll probably have way more fun when I get a chance to play against friends though. The new characters look better than most of the ones from the original version of Street Fighter 4: F.A.N.G’s my personal favorite at this point in time, but I’ve honestly like all of them but Necalli. There’s also the fact that Capcom’s already confirmed 6 new characters for next year, all of whom will be free to those who put in the time and the effort to unlock them. All-in-all, Street Fighter V has been fun and hopefully it lives up to my expectations when the game launches in February.


 

Honorable Mentions

Project X Zone 2

Publisher/Developer: Bandai Namco/Monolith Soft
Platform: 3DS
Release Date: February 16, 2016

I was a fan of the original – never finished it though, because chapters got too long for me. Besides, it’s got Segata Sanshiro in it. ‘Nuff said.

Odin Sphere: Leifthrasir

Publisher/Developer: Atlus/Vanillaware
Platform: PlayStation 4, PlayStation Vita, PlayStation 3
Release Date: Spring 2016

Ever since I played Muramasa, I’ve wanted to try out more of Vanillaware’s games. I always sort of hoped that Odin Sphere would hit PS2 Classics, but this is even better. Only this that could make this better would be a PC release. (Then again, George Kamitani himself said they were exploring options for that sort of thing…)

Hyper Light Drifter

Publisher/Developer: Heart Machine
Platform: PC, PlayStation 4, PlayStation Vita, Xbox One, Wii U, Ouya
Release Date: 2016

Making my honorable mentions list two years in a row is no small feat. Hyper Light Drifter is an action RPG with a beautiful pseudo-retro style. Despite not being released yet, it has managed to achieve quiet the number of cameos and references: Shantae: Half-Genie Hero, Indivisible, Runbow, the list goes on.

Mario & Luigi: Paper Jam

Publisher/Developer: Nintendo/AlphaDream
Platform: 3DS
Release Date: January 22, 2016

Aside from the original on SNES, I have enjoyed pretty much every Mario RPG games. Paper Mario and Mario & Luigi are two of my favorite turn-based RPG series of all-time, so a crossover between the two is more than welcome from my standpoint.

Clayfighter

Publisher/Developer: Interplay/Drip Drop Games
Platform: PC
Release Date: 2016

When I was a kid, I used to love playing the original Clayfighter on Sega Genesis. The sequels weren’t so good, but I’m still sort of looking forward to the upcoming reboot. Hopefully it ends up exceeding even the original, while maintaining its wacky sense of humor.


 

Dishonorable Mention

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: February 9, 2016

The reason I consider this a “dishonorable” mention is because, while I am still looking forward its release, the development cycle was infested with problems and constant delays. Don’t even get me started on the Red Ash debacle, which was followed with the final delay that pushed it into 2016. Part of me thinks that was Inafune’s way of punishing us, but I just can’t be sure.

So those are my most anticipated games of 2016. That’s not to say that there aren’t even more games that I’m looking forward to, but these are my top picks. What do you think? Did we miss any games you’re looking forward to? Feel free to sound off in the comments section with your picks for 2016.

Retro or Reboot?: StarTropics

I’ll be honest, I really enjoyed doing the first Retro or Reboot article and really wanted to do another one as soon as possible. So what if I decided to cheat my own rule about leaving an entire month between articles in a particular series, technically I’ve written 2 more articles since the last one. That has to count for something, right? The only real issue was trying to think up a new topic that could get me just as excited as the last one.

Before we get started, let’s recap the purpose of these articles. I’ll be taking a look at various series (with at least two games) that have fallen on hard times, ones that haven’t received a new game since the PS2 era (I think IPs that originated after that still have a pretty decent chance for revival). Usually, I’ll favor franchises that saw all of their major iterations in the span of a single generation and older generations tend to be favored, just to make for a more radical difference between the two proposals for a new entry in the series: a retro-themed revival that effectively takes the original gameplay and updates it to fit modern game design sensibilities and a full-on reboot, which merely takes the setting of the old franchise and implements it onto an entirely new playstyle. Sort of like a clash between budgets, small versus big. Of course, to make this more of a positive experience, I’ll be optimistic with my proposals.

This article’s topic is StarTropics: a lesser-known Nintendo franchise, but one I’ve been begging to get resurrected for almost two generations now. Effectively the Ristar to Zelda’s Sonic, StarTropics was an adventure game that took the base mechanics of the original Legend of Zelda and took them in a slightly different direction, focusing more on rudimentary puzzle solving and taking a more linear route over Zelda’s open-world exploration. Players took control of Mike Jones, a teenager searching for his lost archeologist uncle, last seen studying the mysteries of C-Island. Armed with only a yo-yo at first, Mike sets off to find his uncle and to solve the mystery of the island. The game’s cult status can likely be attributed to two main factors: the original was only released in North America and Europe and the second game, Zoda’s Revenge, was released exclusively in North America on the NES in 1994, well-after the release of the Super Nintendo. There were rumors back in 2008 of Camelot working on a new iteration of the series on the Nintendo Wii, but nothing really came of it. Likewise, there was a similar rumor stating that Retro Studios was working on a new StarTropics game for Wii U, with similar results. As of right now, the original NES games can be bought on the Wii Virtual Console in North America and the Wii U’s Virtual Console in Europe.

Retro

What we’re looking at here is basically “Super StarTropics”: a game that does for StarTropics what A Link to the Past did for the original Legend of Zelda. Though at this point, it’s also the kind of thing Link’s Awakening, the Oracles games and A Link Between Worlds did for the original Zelda as well. Like with Streets of Rage 4 before it, Super StarTropics probably wouldn’t be the final name for a new game in the franchise, it just perfectly represents how this game should be developed.

Considering the fact that Nintendo R&D3, the developers of the first two games, has been disbanded and the fact that it was mostly popular in the West, I’ve got a specific developer in mind that I think would be perfect for it. You’re probably thinking Retro Studios, but you would be wrong. After all, I can still remember the backlash from when Donkey Kong Country Tropical Freeze was announced and how it kept Retro from developing Metroid Prime 4 their own original IPs. Besides, this is intended to be a smaller project in terms of scale. Frankly, I’d feel more comfortable with “Super StarTropics” being handled by Next Level Games. They did an amazing job on Punch-Out!! for the Wii and Luigi’s Mansion: Dark Moon and they have a close enough relationship with Nintendo that I’d consider them a “second-party” developer for the Big N.

I see this game being sort of a hybrid of A Link Between Worlds (due to the added emphasis on puzzle solving compared to ALttP) and the original StarTropics. The puzzles in the dungeons themselves would be more intricate than just the hidden switches in the original Startropics games (though it wouldn’t be StarTropics without them) and the puzzles on the overworld needed to progress through the game would also likely be made more complicated than those from the NES era. Aside from that, I’d also keep a more linear progression compared to the Zelda games, to better differentiate the two series. Keep the limited ammo on the sub-weapons, the awesome bosses and the control style from the original StarTropics. Mike Jones better be able to jump in any new StarTropics. Ditch the lives system from the old games though, maybe incorporate an item similar to Zelda’s fairy to replace it instead.

Now onto the boring part: graphical style. As usually, I’m pretty neutral on the whole thing. High-definition hand-drawn 2D graphics, 3D models incorporated into a 2.5D style (ala ALBW) or even retro-styled pixel sprites, it doesn’t matter to me. As long as it’s pleasing to the eye, I’m good.

Usually I wouldn’t really have anything else to say here, but I do have some other thoughts on the retro revamp this time around. Specifically, which platform I’d prefer it to be on. Oddly enough, I think this type of game would work better on 3DS (or whatever future handhelds Nintendo comes out with) than on a home console like the Wii U. Maybe it just has to do with the fact that it would be a smaller game and I couldn’t really see something like this being a big hit on a console, especially if it’s a download-only game. A Link Between Worlds, on the other hand, performed fairly well and it was a handheld Zelda that managed to get major acclaim.

Reboot

I guess the best way to describe this one is “StarTropics: Ocarina of Time”. Again, as with “Super StarTropics”, this isn’t by any means a final title, just a summary of how this would play out. In fact, considering how poorly the story of Zoda’s Revenge was received, maybe we should just stay away from time travel entirely. Basically, what I’m proposing here is a game that brings StarTropics out of the early ‘90s and into the modern day, doing for the franchise exactly what Ocarina of Time did…back in 1998.

Earlier I said that I wouldn’t feel comfortable if Retro Studios developed a retro-themed throwback to the StarTropics games of yore, but if we’re talking a modernized big-budget release, I feel like they would be a perfect fit. People have been clamoring for a Retro-developed Zelda game, but Shigeru Miyamoto himself has gone on record stating that even if they are qualified to make a new game, the code base for Zelda resides in Japan while Retro is an American company. Nintendo has a tendency to be very watchful with their more important ideas, so the differences in both time zone and distance would make this project troublesome. On the other hand, StarTropics holds strikingly little importance among Nintendo’s intellectual properties, so Retro would likely require far less oversight on a project like that. Better still, since StarTropics has lied dormant since the NES era, Retro would likely be more able to put their own spin on things without Nintendo fearing fan backlash if they deviate too far from the original formula.

The gameplay style for this game is somewhat obvious: start with the basic action-adventure mold made popular by such games as Okami, Darksiders and every mainline console Zelda since Ocarina of Time. Then throw in some characteristics from StarTropics: mild platforming, puzzle solving and a greater emphasis on the overworld. Keep the basic characters, settings, items and storyline from the first game. Try to ignore the second game’s storyline, or if you have to, make fun of its silly time-travel plot (Bad dream? Fanfic?) Considering the biggest audience for this one is likely to be Westerners, so the gameplay should favor that audience overall. On that note, I’d keep things fairly light and comical in tone, we don’t need any more poorly thought-out gritty reboots.

Unlike the retro revamp, 3D is really the only viable choice for graphics in a big-budget title like this. So, instead, I’ll be talking about the game’s aesthetic. What I say here would also apply to the lower-budget revamp as well. I would like the artstyle of this new game to somewhat resemble the cutscene graphics from the old NES games, especially the old one. I wouldn’t mind seeing character designs take on a similar look to Punch-Out!! on the Wii: something cartoony, but strictly Western. Try to avoid anime aesthetic as much as possible.

There is one last thing I’d like to touch on, something that applies to both proposals. It would be really cool if any new StarTropics game utilized Nintendo’s vast array of sensors for various puzzles. See, back in the day, the original StarTropics came with a letter that revealed a secret message when submerged in water. Imagine decoding messages like that using the Wii U or 3DS’s touch screen. Imagine blowing the dust off of an ancient artifact using the built-in microphones. Imagine using the gyroscope or even the NFC to complete various puzzles in-game. I don’t know about those of you reading, but I think something like that, some interactivity more physical than just hitting buttons would be really cool.

Thus ends another entry in the Retro or Reboot series. What did you think of my ideas this time around? Would you like to see “Super StarTropics” or would you rather see Retro bring the series into the 21st century? Do you disagree with both of my ideas or even feel like StarTropics is not worth resurrecting? Feel free to share your opinions in the comments section.

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.