The 2020 doldrums continue with another week of less than thrilling releases. Even this week’s new Pokémon isn’t getting the usual hype, likely because it is both a re-make and a spin-off, but even Nintendo doesn’t seem to keen to focus on it. At any rate, this drought should hopefully not last too much longer, what with Animal Crossing and Doom Eternal coming this month. Just be patient everyone, we’re getting there.
Pokémon Mystery Dungeon: Rescue Team DX (Switch) – Releases Mar. 6th
Imagine if a new Pokémon game came out, and nobody cared? Well guess what, that’s happening this week! In a bizarre state of events, what is arguably the biggest video game franchise in the world, Pokémon, has a new game coming out and people seem to be about as excited for it as they do a bowl of brussels sprouts (have you had them sauteed and covered in balsamic vinegar though? It’s a delight). Nintendo seems to be completely preoccupied with the release of Animal Crossing that they have seemingly abandoned this title, perhaps hoping it will sell units on name recognition alone. Based on the original GBA/DS title from 2006, this game has you playing as pokémon directly, with no trainer, as you take on on odd jobs and quests from various NPCs. These jobs will lead you into dungeons where you’ll encounter wild pokémon, engaging in turn-based battles with them on a grid map. With the game being a complete remake, and not just a port, you can expect updated graphics and new features, including, mega-evolutions and autosaves, among others.
Granblue Fantasy: Versus (PS4) – Releases Mar. 3rd
From Arc System Works, developers of the Guilty Gear and BlazBlue franchises, comes their latest fighting game Granblue Fantasy: Versus, a spin-off of the F2P mobile RPG. This appears to be, as far as I can tell, the first time a GranBlue game has been released on consoles, and the first one to actually cost you money (aside from microtransactions). While most fighting games contain the barebones requirement for a story, Arc System Works usually does a bit better in this regard, and GranBlue Fantasy: Versus actually takes it a step further have having the single player mode function more like a side scrolling beat ’em up, and will even feature boss fights with characters exclusive to that mode (and I assume will be available for purchase in the not too distant future). You can’t really go wrong with an Arc System Works fighting game, so there should really be no reason to not pick this up and give it a try. I’m sure it’ll be on sale one day if you aren’t keen to plop down $60 bucks.
Holfraine (PS4) – Releases Mar. 3rd
This team based online shooter was developed by a team of five people at Fluxart Studios, a group of Spaniards (I think) who have set up shop in America (I think), according to their Kickstarter page. With this being an indie produced, Kickstart funded game, you have to give them credit for reaching big. The production quality looks pretty low, with some boring, generic backgrounds and graphics that might have looked good on a PS3, but if the gameplay is solid and fun, well, does that stuff really matter? I give the team credit, this couldn’t have been easy to make with only five people, but if you’re going to try and run with the big dogs then you gotta bring something flashier to the table.
Baron: Fur Is Gonna Fly (PC/PS4/Switch/Xbox One) – Releases Mar. 4th
This game does not feature Snoopy, but it does feature other dogs; not famous dogs, just dogs, in clothes. This is a real game that people worked on and want you to give them money for; some of the art is nice.
Murder By Numbers (PC/Switch) – Releases Mar. 5th
Hey, if you didn’t live through the 90’s, I can promise you it did not look like this. Just like how 70’s retro was cool when I was a teenager, and they said everyone wore bell bottoms and had afros while doing karate, that was a lie. We did not all dress up in neon and have Rachel haircuts while drinking coffee, okay. It was hammer pants. Anyway, this is just Picross mixed with a visual novel.
Yes, Your Grace (PC) – Releases Mar. 6th
As if gamers didn’t need more of a superiority complex, prepare yourself to play as an all powerful king in Yes, Your Grace. This does come from the publisher No More Robots, so it is likely going to be a bit cheeky and fun, so you’ll still be able to scream “off with their heads” but in a lighthearted sort of way.
The Division 2: Warlords of New York (PC/PS4/Xbox One) – Releases Mar. 3rd
After four small updates, The Division 2 is getting its first major expansion after just about a year on the market. In Warlords of New York, players will find themselves back in The Big Apple, site of the first game, as they continue to shoot people in abandoned buildings. This expansion comes packed with new missions, a new storyline, new areas to explore, an increased level cap and an overhauled playing experience. This new experience will include new tactical options, new skills, exclusive gear, and “named items”, whatever that means.
Notable Releases from 10, 20 and 30 years ago:
Final Fantasy goes off the deep end, Pokémon makes the jump to 3D, and we get a dual helping of tactical war simulations.
Final Fantasy XIII (PS3/Xbox 360) – Released Mar. 9th, 2010: Wiki Link
Being the first Final Fantasy game on the next generation of consoles is a daunting task. We’d already seen two well regarded next gen debuts with Final Fantasy VII and Final Fantasy X, so of course XIII would be just as good, right? Well, it sure is pretty to look at. Despite positive reviews and record breaking sales, Final Fantasy XIII is generally regarded as a misstep for the series, one that traded the vast open worlds of the previous games, and instead saw it filled with incredibly linear areas that did little to inspire exploration or the feeling of wonder and discovery that the previous titles were known for (let’s also stop and talk about how Final Fantasy X is basically a linear path as well, but doesn’t get shit on nearly as much). As far as plots go, this is perhaps one of the more confusing of the entire series, but I’ll do my best to explain (with some help from Wikipedia). Lightning, a former soldier, is seeking to rescue her sister Serah from Sanctum, a theocratic government that rules over Cocoon, a floating city on Gran Pulse. Serah has recently been branded an enemy of the state for being chosen by the gods to be a Pulse l’Cie, who only believe that the gods should make people into fal’Cie. Lightning, in your quest to save her sister, is caught up in a purge of the town Bodhom, which has recently been infected by some unknown entity from Gran Pulse. It is here that she meets up with the core party of the game. Snow; Serah’s fiance and the leader of a resistance group called NORA, Sazh; a pilot whose son has recently been turned into a crystal (and he has a chocobo chick living in his hair). Hope; teenager who blames Snow for the death of his mother. Vanille; an exiled young woman with a troubled past. Finally there’s Fang; part of the Sanctum’s cavalry branch who joins up with Lightning after she, and the rest of your party, are marked as l’Cie. What follows is 60 hours of six people who all kind of don’t like each other, talking about the merits of fal’Cie, l’Cie, Focus, Cocoon, Gran Pulse, Sanctum, and crystals; much of it not making sense. I actually kind of like this game, and I find brooding protagonists appealing, generally, so this kind of spoke to me in a way that another maligned game in the series, Final Fantasy VIII, did. At the end of the day though, I could never finish it, despite owning all three entries in the series (yes, there are three Final Fantasy XIII games). In six months time we would also get Final Fantasy XIV, a game so horrible that it, along with the lukewarm reception to XIII, would put the entire franchise in jeopardy.
Fun fact: I would lose my job of nine years at Hollywood Video just a couple days before this game released, but luckily I had a new one lined up. The first day of work at my new job was March 12th, 2010; my birthday. As a treat I would buy a copy of Final Fantasy XIII, and it would turn into a fitting metaphor for my career at AMC Theatres; beautiful surroundings with a linear progression, a cast of characters who all hated each other, and then finally giving up half way through (when I was laid off due to budget cuts). We can talk more about that in 2022.
Pokémon Stadium (N64) – Released Feb. 29th, 2000: Wiki Link
After the runaway success of Pokémon on the Game Boy, it was only natural for Nintendo to want and capitalize on their new cash cow by putting on their home console. In March of 1998, Nintendo would release the original Pokémon Stadium in Japan. This title, which did not come to the U.S., was a downgraded version of a title that was originally slated for the 64DD, Nintendo’s failed disk drive add-on for the N64. A little over a year later, in April 1999, they would release Pokémon Stadium 2 in Japan, and this is the title we would eventually get in the U.S. on February 29th, 2000, renamed to just Pokémon Stadium; make sense? Despite being part of the Pokémon franchise, the game played much differently than the Game Boy games. While the original titles were fully fleshed out RPGs, Stadium was more of a battle simulator, where the main goal was to just make your pokémon fight in a gauntlet of matches, against increasingly tougher opponents. Although the game featured all 151 pokémon, players wouldn’t really be able to “catch them all”, so to speak, and this is where the real draw of the game comes through. Bundled with every copy of Pokémon Stadium was the N64 Transfer Pak, a peripheral that attached to the back of your controller and allowed you to both import your Red, Blue, and Yellow pokémon to the N64, and export new ones received in the N64 game. Critics were mixed on the title, with most saying there wasn’t much there to see, and wishing it was more like the Game Boy games, however it was praised for its (at the time) beautiful 3D graphics and was called an absolute must have for die hard pokémon fans. A sequel would release a year later, and subsequent entries in the series would appear on the Gamecube and Wii, before going into hibernation.
Like last week, we’ve got another set of titles that are seemingly related, yet put out by different companies. By 1990, the tactical war simulator was nothing new in video games, in fact they had been a part of table top gaming for about two hundred years before that, so we can’t claim that these titles are truly revolutionary, however we can decree that at least one of them would serve as partial inspiration for the future digital wargaming. First off, let’s discuss Conflict, my least favorite of the two, and perhaps the one closest to the war sims of the past. Developed and published by Japanese company Vic Tokai for a December 1989 release, it would hit the U.S. in March of 1990 for the NES. As was common for the era, players would take on the role of the “western” blue team, fighting against the evil “eastern” red team, thinly veiled stand-ins for the U.S. and the U.S.S.R.. With a hexagonal map to traverse, players would have the choice to move three of their units and, if they had any factories still standing, produce one land or air unit. The goal of each scenario was to destroy the enemy player’s flag tank, while protecting your own. With a wide variety of terrain to navigate, players could use some of the tiles to their advantage, taking a higher ground position, or using trees as cover. The battle system was a bit wonky, with the player taking turns with the computer, attacking and defending, in an almost rock, scissors, paper fashion. While the game was praised for its realism and multitude of options, I found it to be boring and clunky, not very well suited for the limitations of the NES.
While Vic Tokai was releasing their war sim on the NES, over in Japan, a year earlier, Nintendo and Intelligent Design had released a unique war game of their own, called Famicom Wars, which never saw a U.S. release, but would eventually come to us in the form of Advance Wars. What does this have to do with Conflict and Military Madness? Well, not much, at first glance, it’s just one more wargame in the genre. However, Hudson Soft, the developer and publisher of Military Madness (or as it was called in Japan, Nectaris), would take some inspiration from Famicom Wars in its design. While Wars was set on a square grid, Military Madness was on a hexagonal grid, like Conflict. However, unlike Conflict and Famicom Wars, there was no “good” west and “evil” east, instead opting to set the game in the future, where the Allied Powers would fight the Axis Powers on the Moon, because why not. While Conflict was a bit more realistic and sim focused, Military Madness was more keen on making the game fun. With no ability to create your own units, players would have to strategically use what they were given at the start of the battle, and with a map that was much smaller in size, the action was fast paced and nearly instantaneous, keeping downtime to a minimum. Fans of the Wars series (and Fire Emblem) will also find the battle screens in Military Madness very familiar, with units from each army facing off against one another in rectangular shaped screens, with a dwindling number of tanks/infantry to indicate the strength level/health points of that unit. While Intelligent Design would continue making Wars games for the Super Famicom, they would enlist Hudson Soft to work on the Game Boy versions of the series called, to no one’s surprise, Game Boy Wars.
While it may not seem that these games did anything truly revolutionary, it is noted that Military Madness would have a profound impact on Westwood Studios when they were developing Dune II. According to Wikipedia, lead programmer of Dune II, Mike Legg, cited three games that had a major influence on their title, including Civilization, Military Madnes, and a game that will arrive in April of 1990, the Sega Genesis game Herzog Zwei, which we’ll talk about next month.