Another week and another re-release/remaster is the top new game (and unless something changes, it’ll be that way for next 3 weeks). That’s not to say there’s no value in picking a re-release/remaster as the top new game, particularly when if was initially overlooked, it’s hard to find, or it was on a system that not many people had. Think of these coming weeks not as reheated leftovers, but a delicious dish remade from scratch and served in a brand new restaurant.
The Wonderful 101: Remastered (PC/PS4/Switch) – Releases May 19th
When Platinum Games action/adventure game The Wonderful 101 was released in 2013 it had great promise. Platinum had major clout with hardcore gamers, it was being directed by acclaimed designer Hideki Kamiya, and had the full backing of Nintendo behind it. The game appeared to be a slam dunk, except it had one big problem, it was being made for the Wii U. I’ll be the first one to defend the Wii U, because while it had its shortcomings, the system has an impressive lineup of titles, which is why they’re pretty much all coming to Switch. The Wii U, with its portable screen, was the Switch before we even knew we wanted it, and it was, if you squint hard enough, a DS for your television (game pad, screen 1; tv, screen 2). Kamiya, and producer Atsushi Inaba, wanted to create a game that allowed players who preferred different types of characters to all have a protagonist they felt a bond with, which led to this idea of being able to switch up your character at will. Originally envisioned for the Wii, Kamiya toyed with the idea of filling the game with popular Nintendo characters, but when it started to feel too much like Smash Bros. the idea was scrapped. Instead, Kamiya and Inaba would take a page from their Viewtiful Joe playbook and have the characters transform into heroes, Japanese Henshin style (i.e. Kamen Rider, Super Sentai, etc.). With development taking a bit longer than expected, the title was moved to Wii U which inspired the team to use the console’s Game pad controller to have the player draw various shapes to get their large group of characters to morph into large objects, such as weapons or bridges. The Wonderful 101 was seen as a critical hit, but commercial failure, with sales that were lower than Nintendo and Platinum expected, with the game failing to even sell out of its initial 30,000 print run in Japan. It didn’t do so hot in the U.S. either, only selling roughly 49,000 copies by the end of 2013, putting the game at a dismal 79,000 units worldwide. However, Kamiya and his team were very proud of the game & characters, and rumors of a sequel or remaster for the Switch persisted for several years until we finally got word in February of 2020 that the game would be remastered for Swtich, as well as PC and PS4, but only if it met funding goals on Kickstarter. Within a few hours the funding had been met, and by the end of its campaign Platinum would get $2.75 million in pledges. With Platinum now self publishing the game (their first one, if I’m not mistaken) it’ll be interesting to see how the wider audience that the PC, PS4, and Switch bring, in comparison to the Wii U, translate to sales. It’s a gamble on their part, and I hope it works in their favor.
Obligatory Mega64 video:
Crucible (PC) – Releases May 20th
Amazon has been slowly dipping their toe into the video game industry over the past ten years. Initially a mobile app publisher, they finally hit consoles last year with a game based on the show The Grand Tour. Now their Seattle studio is ready to release their second game, a team-based online shooter called Crucible. With the success of Blizzard’s Overwatch in 2016, several companies, both big and small, have been trying to cash in on the craze. Games like Battleborn, Lawbreakers, and Paladins have come and gone, but none of those had the kind of pockets that Amazon has. With Overwatch 2‘s release still TBA, could Crucible be a worthwhile competitor to Overwatch? Probably not.
Evercade – Releases May 22nd
The Evercade handheld console appears to be a big win for the retro gaming community. Boasting an impressive library of games, the team have partnered with several publishers, including Atari, Interplay, Namco, and Technos Japan, to license some of their most popular. Based in the UK, the console appears to be developed by Blaze Entertainment, who have been making retro gaming machines for several years, mostly Atari based. While review copies of the system have gone out to a few publications and “influencers” (see the Metal Jesus Rocks video below), players will finally get a chance to own one for themselves this week…if you can find one. The system is currently sold out on Amazon, with re-sellers gobbling them up and inflating the price, and I’m sure with COVID-19 still ravaging the population we’ll continue to see shortages of the device. Is there a reason to pick this up instead of a Nintendo Switch? Hardly, in my opinion, since a lot of these games are available on Nintendo’s console (plus you get access to modern releases and first party Nintendo gems). What if you already own a Switch? Well, I’d probably still say no since, like i said, you have access to many of these games already, BUT, there are titles that aren’t available, like the oddities from Piko Interactive, or the collection of Lynx games that are coming later this year. Retro gaming seems to become a bigger and bigger deal every year, and if you are a fan of game preservation then the Evercade is a step in the right direction, as the developers of the console clearly have a love for the old school. Is it worth the $100+ price tag though? That’s up to you.
Maneater (PC/PS4/Xbox One) – Releases May 22nd (Switch release TBD)
If The Wonderful 101: Remastered wasn’t coming out this week then I’d have made Maneater the top pick. Initially developed as DLC for the 2014 game Depth, it was eventually turned into a standalone game when several members of Depth’s team left to create their own company. Taking what they learned on Depth, developer Tripwire Interactive removed the human vs. shark online element and created a single player game in which the player, as a shark, moves around an open world taking on missions and playing mini-games. The developer wanted a healthy mix of realism and ridiculousness, with a stronger weight towards being silly, with your shark having the ability to wear armor and gain super powers. As for plot, you take on the role of a baby bull shark whose mother is killed by a shark hunter named Scaly Pete. If you’re like me, you read this and think, “hey, it’s kind of like Jaws: The Revenge“, which you might remember being the worst movie in that franchise, but that’s okay! Jaws didn’t wear chainmail, which was his first mistake. The game looks like a hell of a good time, let’s hope the controls are solid and that it isn’t too repetitive.
TurboGrafx-16 Mini – Releases May 22nd
Hey, this is a nice surprise. We have not just ONE retro console this week, but TWO!! This one I’m a bit more jazzed about as the TurboGrafx-16, despite losing to the Sega Genesis, is a fantastic system. There’s some great titles on this device like Ys Book 1+2, Castlevania: Rondo of Blood, and Bonk’s Revenge. Plus you get some obscure little gems like Neutopia and Alien Crush. This one is probably worth the $100 dollar price tag if, again, you can find one, because I have a feeling it will not have a huge production run and the price will only skyrocket on the secondary market.
Ports and Re-releases:
Arrest of a Stone Buddha (Switch) – Releases May 21st
Originally released for PC back in February, this John Woo inspired action/life sim game is coming to Switch on the 21st. Taking inspiration from games like Hotline Miami, you take control of a professional killer who must gun down his enemies, and then catch a movie, in 1970’s France. The game is apparently slow and methodical on purpose, as the developer seems to be trying to send a message about how life can be mundane even when you’re a trained killer. I don’t know, I mean, the game looks awesome, but I can see it start to wear thin after a while. Is this a day one purchase or a “wait until it’s one dollar during a sale” game?
The Persistence (PC – VR Support/Switch/Xbox One) – Releases May 21st
This timed PSVR exclusive is now making its way to your PC, Switch, and XBone. This first person, sci-fi roguelike finds you stuck on a space ship overrun by horrific monsters. Sounds spooky.
What The Golf? (Switch) – Releases May 21st
Hey, do you hate golf but like to play games about golf? What the Golf? is for you then.
Monstrum (PS4/Switch/Xbox One) – Releases May 22nd
Hey, look at that doorway. It’s fucking crazy, right? I mean, fuck, what could possibly be beyond that fucking doorway, I mean, aside from several other mother fucking doorways? This fucking shit is so fucking crazy, you know? Like, what the fuck, man? Am I a fucking animal? What.The.Fuck? Phew, fuck, right? Think it’ll get me closer to God?
Saints Row The Third – Remastered (PC – Epic Games Store/PS4/Xbox One) – Releases May 22nd
Somehow this song just fits with that image above.
Total War: Warhammer II – The Warden & The Paunch (PC) – Releases May 21st
This is now the eighth paid piece of DLC for the three year old game (plus a LOT of free DLC). If you’re a fan of the Warhammer miniatures game then you’re already used to paying a shit ton of money to enjoy your hobby, so having so much DLC in a short amount of time is par for the course.
Dragon Ball FighterZ: Ultra Instinct Goku (PC/PS4/Switch/Xbox One) – Releases May 22nd
Goku tries his best to control Ultra Instinct in this EPIC new piece of DLC for the two year old fighting game. Can you control Goku who is trying to control Ultra Instinct? Are my tendies ready?
Cannibal Cuisine (PC/Switch) – Releases May 20th
Fluxteria (PS4/Switch) – Releases May 21st
Concept Destruction (PC/PS4/Switch) – Releases May 22nd
SokoBunny (PC/Xbox One) – Releases May 22nd
Notable Releases from 10, 20 and 30 years ago:
This week’s notable titles include a Nintendo classic, a Microsoft classic, and a…Nintendo/Microsoft classic, what?! Read on, friends.
Super Mario Galaxy 2 (Wii) – Released May 23rd, 2010: Wiki Link
While PS3 and 360 owners were deep in the world of Rockstar’s Western masterpiece Red Dead Redemption, Nintendo loyalists were discovering another masterpiece in its own right; the Wii exclusive Super Mario Galaxy 2. When the Nintendo EAD Tokyo team initially conceived the game it was just going to be an updated version of the first Super Mario Galaxy but, as the the team continued to add and interate, the game eventually grew past the scope of an update. The concept was the brainchild of famed developer Shigeru Miyamoto who thought the team could focus on just adding in content originally cut from the first game, including the addition of Yoshi, various power-ups, and a planet shaped like Mario’s head. In various interviews, Miyamoto would give out tidbits on the game, including that it would be more challenging than Super Mario Galaxy, with less focus on the plot and more of a focus on the core gameplay. Depending on your thoughts, this was either the best thing they could have done, or one of the worst. While the Mario games are generally not known for their deep and engaging plots, the characters and themes presented in Super Mario Galaxy were fairly deep, so losing that was a bit of a downgrade. However, the Mario games have always been on the forefront of platform gaming, so to have the team hunker down and create some really elaborate stages that would require pin-point precision was a dream come true for the hardcore gaming community. When the game finally released on May 23rd, 2010 it was met with some of the best reviews of the year. Critics were enamored with the game and had some calling it the greatest platformer of all time, and arguably one of the greatest video games ever made. There were some critics, however, that lamented the lack of story, the strong similarity to the first game, and the high difficulty, particularly in the later stages of the game. While the game was difficult, it was noted by some critics that the game didn’t feel particularly unfair, meaning that deaths were more often a lack of skill on the player’s part than with a poor design choice on the developers part. While the game didn’t sell as many copies as the first Super Mario Galaxy title, it was still a big hit, selling roughly 7.4 million copies worldwide, making it the 13th best selling game on the Wii. While physical copies are tough to come by at a reasonable price, Wii U owners can pick up a digital copy of the game from the Nintendo eShop, and if certain rumors are to be believed, we should expect to hear more about this game, and many other Mario games, later this year.
Perfect Dark (N64) – Released May 22nd, 2000: Wiki Link
After the massive success of Rare’s GoldenEye on the Nintendo 64, many expected them to follow it up with an adaptation of the next Bond film, Tomorrow Never Dies. However, the company lost the license to EA after that company spent an obscene amount of money to secure the rights to the James Bond franchise. Undeterred, Rare moved forward with a new FPS project that would retain the feeling of GoldenEye, but be a completely separate entity. This new title would go through a few names, hot 90’s shit like “Alien Intelligence”, before it was decided to call the game Perfect Dark. This nihilistic title was an homage to Japanese games, as original director Martin Hollis was always a fan of how they would take two seemingly unrelated English words and put them together to make their titles (he cites no examples, but just looking at some classic games you could probably count Metal Gear, Alien Syndrome, Operation Wolf, Altered Beast, etc. among them). Hollis and his team decided to throw everything they had into Perfect Dark, using every idea they had ever wanted to in a game. They had always wanted to build a dystopian sci-fi world like Blade Runner, so that was in; one of the level designers had always wanted to build a skyscraper, so that was the first level; one designer wanted to put a chess piece in every level, just for the hell of it, so he did. It was really a free for all in terms of game design and if you play through the game’s bonkers story you’ll understand how this shaped Perfect Dark into what it would become.
Development of Perfect Dark would take three years, however those first 14 months were rocked with delays and other production troubles, eventually leading to Martin Hollis leaving not just the project, but Rare altogether. Not only would Hollis leave, but half of the Perfect Dark team would leave as well, prompting Rare to increase the game’s staff to three times the size of GoldenEye’s, just to get through the mess that had been left them. The creator of the game engine, Mark Edmonds, was promoted to team lead due to his extensive knowledge of the game, making it a miracle that it even came out at all. The team’s ambition continued to grow, and as they added feature after feature it was determined that the Nintendo 64 Expansion Pak would be necessary for players to play the campaign (multiplayer could be played without it). Despite this extra memory, Perfect Dark is well known for pushing the N64 to its maximum limits, causing some choppy frame rates and affecting the game’s overall performance. In the end, though, it didn’t really matter. Upon release, the game was a smash hit with players eager to pick up what many considered the true sequel to GoldenEye, despite not having the Bond name tied to it. The marketing department at Nintendo were eager to play up the adult nature of the game, hiring model Michele Merkin to portray protagonist Joanna Dark in television commercials and at in-store appearances. The M rating was a bit of a shock to some parents, and those in the broader gaming community, who had always associated Nintendo with family-friendly entertainment. The game was the second best selling game of the month, falling behind the Pokemon Trading Card Game, and would sell over one million copies by the end of 2003.
Critics loved the game, giving it some of the best reviews of the year, with perfect scores from both GamePro Magazine and Victor Lucas’ game review show The Electric Playground. Critics were floored by the game’s gorgeous (for 2000) graphics, its impressive AI, and robust multiplayer options (which was to be expected from the team behind GoldenEye). Despite the good parts of the game, including some brilliant non-linear level design, the game was knocked for its frame rate issues (something Rare was acutely aware of) and a sort of “fetishization” of protagonist Joanna Dark, that seemed to border on the creepy side (I mean, just look at the trailer above). Those points aside, the game still managed to end of up several “Best of” lists for the year, with its most prestigious being named one of the top games of the year by the BAFTA’s. As I noted earlier, original director Martion Hollis and several other key members of the Perfect Dark team left the company mid production. While Hollis would form a company called Zoonami, the other members who left would create Free Radical, where they would release the game TimeSplitters, which is considered a spiritual successor to Perfect Dark. Then, in a move that will likely be talked about in greater detail in a future edition of this column, Rare would be bought out by Microsoft who were looking to build a stable of companies to release games for their first home console, the Xbox. It’s due to this purchase that you are now able to play Perfect Dark and GoldenEye on your Xbox One, and that the follow-up title, Perfect Dark Zero, was an Xbox 360 launch title. Rare hasn’t really done much with Perfect Dark, or any of their franchises as of late, but with the upcoming Series X can we expect to maybe see Joanna Dark return to our television sets? Pfft, hahahahahahahahaha.
Microsoft Entertainment Pack 1 (PC) – Released May 1990: Wiki Link
In 1990, software developer Microsoft was known almost exclusively as a creator of the DOS and Windows operating systems and their suite of office programs. As for games, well, they had Microsoft Flight Simulator, which had just released it’s 4.0 version at the end of 1989, and a copy of Reversi was included with the earliest versions of Windows, but, for the most part, games weren’t their thing. With the release of Windows 3.0, however, and its overwhelming adoption in offices around the U.S., the age old tradition of wasting time at work was too much of a draw for Microsoft to just sit on their hands and do nothing. With the majority of the PC game companies still producing content for DOS, it was up to Microsoft to come up with their own games. One of their product managers, a guy named Bruce Ryan, went around to different Windows teams and asked them for any small games they had been working on. He was able to round up a handful of titles that Microsoft then packaged together, calling Microsoft Entertainment Pack for Windows. Seen, initially, as a throw away kind of product, the company was surprised at the success of the project, with it selling way more copies than they expected, and I’d have to wager that it was one title in particular that got people excited; a little Russian game called Tetris. If you’re a regular reader of this column then you should be fully aware of the long and crazy history of Tetris, so I won’t go into it here, but by May of 1990 the game was a worldwide phenomenon, already taking over just about every office computer you can imagine. With the upgrade to Windows 3.0, casual gamers could once again sit in their cubicle and play a few rounds of Tetris before their 2 o’clock meeting. Along with Tetris, the pack included several other Windows staples like Cruel, Golf, Pegged, Taipei, TicTactics, IdleWild, and one of the most bizarre, and endearing computer games of all time, Minesweeper. Programmed for Windows 3.0 by Robert Donner, the game had actually been around for several years before that, dating back to the 1960’s, but the modern version appears to have entered the public consciousness in the mid 1980’s when a man named Curt Johnson created the Microsoft version of the game. This strange puzzle game requires the player to determine the location of several mines on a grid, with clues as to their whereabouts by numbers on the columns and rows. As a kid I was perplexed by this oddity and could never understand why it was part of every copy of Windows. Now, as an adult, well, I’m still perplexed by the weird game! Minesweeper would eventually become the default Windows game once version 3.1 was released in 1992, and the Microsoft Entertainment Pack would become its own series, with four versions released over the years, as well as a version released for the Game Boy Color in November of 2000. You can still get a lot of these games today through the Microsoft Store if you are using Windows 10, but there’s a certain nostalgia tied to these classic Windows 3.x games that just hit differently than their modern counterparts.