It’s the last hurrah before the game companies put their games into cold storage for the Christmas break. It looks to be a pretty great week for indies, so after you spend some time killing yourself out at the mall trying to find a parking spot and that perfect gift for your friends and family, slow your mind down and relax a bit.
Earth Defense Force 5 (PS4)
Well here we are, the fifth installment of the popular (?) EDF series. As with previous entries, you play as a soldier in the Earth Defense Force, a military organization tasked with keeping the planet safe from alien invasions; the main threat, giant bugs. Not the “bugs” from Starship Troopers, no. Literally the kinds of bugs you’d see on Earth already, but GIANT. Spiders, ants, pill bugs and hornets are the main baddies, but this time around there also appear to be bipedal frogs with big ass guns and humanoid aliens who also have guns. Humanoids appear to be a first for the series, which now takes place in an alternate dimension from the other EDF games. Every game in the series has a fun, frantic arcade feeling to them, with purposefully cheesy graphics, dialogue and scenarios. Pair this with the part 4 spin-off SHMUP title from earlier this year, Wingdiver: The Shooter (or as the trailer calls it, WINGDIVER THE SHOOOOOOTEEEEER!), and the upcoming Iron Rain in 2019, and you’ve got yourself a trifecta of alien bug shooting goodness!
Ancient Frontier: Steel Shadows (PC)
In what seems to be a sequel to their 2017 game Ancient Frontier, the latest title Steel Shadows is a standalone game in indie developer Fair Weather Studios game universe. Taking place in the same shared universe as their previous AF game, as well as a shooter they made called Bladestar, Steel Shadows is a tactical RPG which sees you piloting a fleet of ships around the galaxy, pillaging and stealing from everyone you meet. According to the Steam page you will play through 20+ story missions, experience 50+ side missions, have the ability to find unique pilots and ships to add to your fleet, as well as many other options for crew and customization. Whenever someone mentions PC games, this is usually the first type that comes to mind. A massive [INSERT GENRE HERE] simulator with deep customization options that 100% requires a mouse and keyboard to play with. I hope you in the PC master race enjoy this game.
Desert Child (PC/PS4/Switch/Xbox One)
The above trailer was made as an homage to the Cowboy Bebop opening, and I’ll take it! This game came on my radar after seeing the beautiful graphics, like a mix between Another World and old school Sierra/LucasArts adventure games. In Desert Child you play as a young hover bike racer who is trying to get his ass to Mars to join a big interplanetary race. You will take on different side jobs in order to earn money, and along the way upgrade your bike and meet a cast of colorful characters. The developer says they were inspired by not only Cowboy Bebop, but also two other anime titles; Redline and the classic Akira. Keep your eye on this one.
RollerCoaster Tycoon Adventures (Switch) – Releases Dec. 13th
Originally announced on the crowdfunding platform StartEngine back in January of 2018, the game, developed by Atari, was announced to be a Switch exclusive that took advantage of the unique control capabilities of the system. It was not well received, causing a bit of controversy due to the amount being asked for ($10k minimum to a $1 million maximum), as well as the idea that Atari was using the JOBS act, intended to fund small businesses, to get some extra revenue for the game. I guess we all just assumed Atari was doing fine because it’s such a household name, but according to a Polygon article, Atari only has 500 or so employees, putting it well below the threshold for what is considered a small business (1,500). Alright, so what does this have to do with the game? Nothing really, I guess, but it adds to the flavor. The mobile version isn’t so well loved, and people seem to have a major aversion to the franchise ever since it went into the 3D realm. I don’t know gang, I really love the first two RollerCoaster Tycoon games, and this looks like a decent recreation of those games, but I would assume for die-hard’s it won’t live up to their standards. In any case, for the right price this could be a fun theme park simulator for your Switch.
Ports and Re-releases:
Borderlands 2 VR (PSVR) – Releases Dec. 14th. Let’s see, looking over my game play stats on Steam, I’ve put in over 400 hours on Borderlands 2, how the hell did I do that?! I can’t do VR though, it give me motion sickness, but if you’re one of the many out there who don’t get sick in VR, and you love Borderlands 2, then you’re in luck. This isn’t just a straight port either, as Gearbox has added in some new features like the ability to slow down time, as well as perform a variety of tasks using the PSVR’s wands instead of the standard controller. Have fun virtual vault hunters!
Firewatch (Switch) – Releases Dec. 17th. I’m not going to sugarcoat it, I hate this game. It’s boring, frustrating, and not at all worth the hype and accolades. Yeah, the story was kind of interesting, I guess, but it was quintessential “indie” in the same way that movies like Little Miss Sunshine are made to be “indie”. It just rubs me the wrong way. If you loved this then that’s great, I hope you enjoy their next game that I’ll never play. If you haven’t played this by now, well, I’m sure you’ll like it too. It was nominated for Game of the Year.
Forza Horizon 4: Fortune Island (PC/Xbox One) – Releases Dec. 13th. Tired of driving all over merry ol’ England? Then why not pick up this major expansion for Forza Horizon 4 and get whisked away to Fortune Island, a place (according to the official website) “…full of extreme terrain just begging to be explored”. You’ll have new challenges to take on, as well as an actual fortune to search for, with clues being scattered around the island in treasure chests. There are also a bunch of new vehicles for you to drive, including the beautiful 1953 Morris Minor Series II Traveler. Can someone please buy me this car for Christmas?
Ni No Kuni II: Revenant Kingdom – The Lair of the Lost Lord (PS4) – Releases Dec. 13th. It’s a Christmas miracle, brad new content for Ni No Kuni II! In this latest piece of DLC you will get a new zone to explore, a new addition to the battle system, and new quests to do.
Gris (PC/Switch) – A new game from Devolver Digital is almost always a reason to rejoice, and this latest title from developer Nomada Studio looks promising! The stylistically beautiful game has you playing the role of Gris, a young woman who is dealing with a real life trauma by escaping into a world of her own creation. Featuring puzzle and platforming elements, the game claims that you will not die or face any danger. Instead you will have the optional choice to take on tougher and tougher challenges as the game progresses. Sounds like fun.
Kingdom: Two Crowns (PC/PS4/Switch/Xbox One) – The original Kingdoms was released in 2015 and was called a “sidescrolling…minimalist…” game by the developers. Taking on a pixel art look, they designed a strategy/resource management game that took place in an old medieval kingdom. An expansion/remake came out a couple years later titled New Lands, which added more content and…land. Now a full-fledged sequel is coming that, again, according to the developers, “…expands upon the challenging micro strategy experience…” by adding a campaign mode, as well as the ability to play the game in a new co-op mode, both locally and online. I’ve overlooked this series, but I have the feeling it is going to be worth checking out at some point.
Insurgency: Sandstorm (PC) – Releases Dec. 12th. The original Insurgency game from 2007 was a total conversion mod of Half-Life 2 using Valve’s Source engine, and then turned into a full title seven years later. Now after a four year wait we have the third game in the series, Sandstorm. Originally the series was created to be a realistic squad shooter based on the military exploits of a former Canadian Army veteran. In the latest game, players will find themselves fighting in a fictional war being conducted in the Middle East. The game boasts that it favors realism, making it the perfect game for all you hardcore military nuts out there. Plus you can also customizes your character with authentic military uniforms, and a variety of skin tones and voices!
Lucius III (PC) – Releases Dec. 13th. Remember the massive hits Lucius I and II? Yeah, me either, but that doesn’t matter to the creators of this game, they’re going to get their trilogy out there god dammit! From Steam, “Lucius is back. In a whole new narrative experience, he now returns to his old neighborhood of Winter Hill. The path will be a difficult one, with trials and tribulations waiting ahead. Has he made the right choices? Is it finally time to end it all?” Wow.
Big Crown: Showdown (PC/PS4/Switch/Xbox One) – Releases Dec. 14th. Have you been playing Smash Bros. and thinking to yourself, “Man, I wish everyone were different colored knights”? Well, first, you’re weird; second, that game exists. It’s called Big Crown: Showdown.
Notable Releases from 10, 20 and 30 years ago:
Just like this year, the game industry had one last big week before they put a freeze on their output in anticipation of Christmas. Plus we have our first big mobile game to get highlighted, so that’s something!
I Love Katamari (iOS) – Released Dec. 14th, 2008: Wiki Link
With The App Store only being a few months old, you can almost call I Love Katamari a launch title for modern mobile devices. I’m sure more than a few people downloaded this to play on their holiday trips across the country as they waited in airports, train stations, and in the backseat of the family sedan, rolling their katamari’s around, collecting garbage in order to turn it into a star. Game play wise, this functioned similarly to the original Katamari Damacy, but used the unique touch screen properties of mobile devices to move around. This was initially a point of contention, with many reviewers saying that the game suffered from poor controls. These controls, as well as performance issues, led to mixed reviews. However, according to Wikipedia, the issues were eventually patched and fixed in subsequent updates. As of 2015 the game has been delisted from The App Store, as have versions for both Android and Windows. Oh well, at least we have it on Switch now!
South Park (N64) – Released Dec. 12th, 1998: Wiki Link
After premiering in August of 1997, Trey Parker and Matt Stone’s animated series South Park took the world by storm. Huge ratings led to all kinds of licensing deals, music deals, movie deals, and of course a video game deal. What came out of this, however, was a rushed cash grab that just barely qualified as a South Park game. Using the engine from the game Turok 64, developers at Iguana Entertainment decided that they would make a first person shooter game, with children, in which you defended the stown from a turkey/alien invasion. It was fucking stupid. Granted, at this time the developers only had a few episodes of the show to base an entire game on, so we’re stuck with references to the first eight or so episodes of the show, and for some reason the idea of having the turkeys from the episode Starvin’ Marvin run amok in town was the most appealing idea. The game is terrible, despite the positive reviews it got at the time (subsequent PSX and PC versions were panned). The only reason I can imagine it got any positive feedback was because of the initial hype of the show, which was wrapping up its second season at the time. Fortunately for all involved, the game did not use conventional guns for weapons, just imagine the outcry if it did use real weapons, as Columbine was only 5 months away from happening. Thankfully, instead of guns, the boys in the game used things like snowballs, dodge balls, and Nerf guns. The game did feature voice acting from Parker and Stone, but due to the limitations of the N64 (and I assume the budget Acclaim gave Iguana) the voices were garbled and tinny, sounding like they were recorded in a tin can. It would take almost 16 years for us to finally get a South Park game worthy of the show when Stick of Truth came out in 2014. Don’t let the rose colored glasses fool you, this game is terrible, and best forgotten.
Castlevania II: Simon’s Quest (NES) – Released Dec. 1988: Wiki Link
Back before the Castelvania series got its timeline all funky and we started playing as various Belmont family members, Simon’s Quest was a direct sequel to the first NES Castlevania, finding Simon Belmont trying to undo the curse Dracula placed on him at the end of the previous game. Like Zelda II, this game was a departure from its predecessor, however not as big of a departure. The game was still a side scrolling action game, but due to the genre’s rising popularity, Konami added RPG and adventure elements to the game. Simon was no longer moving linearly through levels, instead he was moving all around a semi-open world, talking to townsfolk, buying things and collecting Dracula’s body parts, each of which increased Simon’s power. Due to this change in game play there were some questionable portions of the game that, without the aid of a strategy guide, were near impossible to get through, such as the infamous “tornado in the graveyard” section. Other portions of the North American release were difficult to understand due to poor translation from the original Japanese dialogue, making the townsfolk’s “tips” less than helpful (this had a lot to do with some of those townsfolk being total assholes, but their sarcasm didn’t translate well to English). Despite the questionable choices with the game’s progression, it was still a hit and went on to influence many other Japanese games at the time (similar to the way Zelda II was polarizing, but went on to inspire other games). Again, as with Zelda II, the seeds of Simon’s Quest can be seen in many of the later games in the Castlevania series, like non-linear exploration and item collection. Fun fact, the Nintendo Power cover for this game was a picture of Simon holding the severed head of Dracula, which caused many parents to complain to the magazine about the violence, prompting Nintendo Power to call the magazine the worst cover in its history.
As I mentioned at the top of the column, this is pretty much the last week of any major releases until January, so what I think I’ll do next week is a kind of “Buyers Guide to 2018” or something like that, and then maybe the week of Christmas I’ll do a year in review for 1988, 1998 and 2008. Sound good? Good. Love y’all!