Summer games 2020 continues this week with a plethora of poppin’ ports. Plus there’s Pokémon!
SpongeBob SquarePants: Battle for Bikini Bottom – Rehydrated (PC/PS4/Switch/Xbox One) – Releases Jun. 23rd
SpongeBob Squarepants, that lovable yellow rectangle is this week’s top pick because, well, what else is there? Originally released in 2003 for PC, PS2, GBA, GameCube, and Xbox, our favorite porifera is making the leap to current gen consoles with a totally rebuilt version of the classic platformer. To be honest, I really don’t have anything nice to say about this one, it looks like a baby game for baby kids that I’ll download on a PS4 emulator in the year 2040 when I do the 20 year old Notable Game for that week’s New Game Releases column. See you all then!
Pokémon Café Mix (Android/iOS/Switch) – Releases Jun. 23rd
Who doesn’t love more Pokémon, eh? In this simple puzzle game you will swipe your finger across the screen many, many times in an effort to collect the same pocket monster faces, which you will then somehow use to create cookies, cakes, and drinks in your cute little café. After a while you’ll have a few Pokémon join you on your quest to be the best dame café owner in the region. Gotta pumpkin spice ’em all!
Ninjala (Switch) – Releases Jun. 24th
What happens when you mix Splatoon and Fortnite? I don’t know but I wouldn’t want that game on my Switch!! Hahahaha, fuck me, I’m funny. If I can be serious for a moment, though, this game looks fun, and it has that cutesy/cool charm and appeal that would have had a 12 year old me begging my parents to go to Blockbuster so I could rent it. I think there’s a lot of potential here if you can get over the ugly design. Oh, and that trailer says it comes out in May but, uh, that obviously didn’t happen.
Brigandine: The Legend of Runersia (Switch) – Releases Jun. 25th
The classic PSX game Brigandine is finally set to receive a sequel after a long, looooonnnnggg 22 year hiatus. This turn-based strategy game looks decent, and its hex-based grid system should offer a bit of a different challenge than the standard square-based grid you see most of these games employ. Developer Matrix Software has a long history of decent to “just okay” games, but they did make Alundra which was, well, uh…decent and just okay. *Shrugs*
Ports and Re-releases:
Duke Nukem 3D: 20th Anniversary World Tour (Switch) – Releases Jun. 23rd
I’m here to kick ass and play Nintendo Switch, and I’m all out of bubble gum…wait…
Little Town Hero (PS4) – Releases Jun. 23rd
While Game Freak are primarily known for their Pokémon games, they do occasionally branch out into other avenues, and even to other systems. Originally released for Switch in late 2019, the JRPG Little Town Hero is now coming to the PS4 so you can play it comfortably on your couch and literally no place else. Well, I mean, I guess you could bring your TV, PS4, and some kind of power generator on the bus, but that’s a lot of work for a game that GamesRadar’s Jordan Gerblick said was, “An exercise in battle strategy and patience for its flaws, Little Town Hero knows where its strengths lie, and thankfully you’ll see more strengths than flaws if you invest in them“. Solid critique. Also Mega64 sort of did this in a video, which I will show to you now because they are my favorite internet comedy group and you should watch their videos and one time I bought Rocco figures at Comic-Con and we chatted in person and I think we’re best friends now and I cut my hair just like his and I only wear shorts now and I’m thinking of getting glasses, do you think he’s my friend? Do you? DO YOU ? DOYOU DO YOUDO YOU DODYOU DODOOOUUYYOU??
Night Call (Switch/Xbox One) – Releases Jun. 24th
“There’s something inside you, it’s hard to explain. They’re talking about you boy, but you’re still the same”.
Anno History Collection (PC – Epic Games Store) – Releases Jun. 25th
Epic Games Store loyalists continue to reap the treasures coming out of Ubisoft who have seemingly decided that EGS is the place for their games. While 2019 saw the release of the latest entry in the series, Anno 1800, fans of the classic games can now get excited about enhanced versions of four older titles; 1602 A.D., 1503 A.D., 1701 A.D. and Dawn of Discovery. Each one has been painstakingly updated to display high resolution graphics, with some even going as high as 4K #dab. Having only just started playing this series with last year’s game, I can’t really muster up much excitement for these, but I’m sure there are handfuls of you out there who are going absolutely ape shit over this announcement.
Blair Witch (Switch) – Releases Jun. 25th
“I just want to apologize to Mike’s mom and Josh’s mom and my mom. And I’m sorry to everyone. I was very naive. I am so, so sorry for everything that has happened. Because in spite of what Mike says now, it is my fault. Because it was my project and I insisted. I insisted on everything. I insisted we weren’t lost. I insisted we keep going. I insisted that we walk south. Everything had to be my way and this is where we’ve ended up. And it’s all because of me that we’re here now: hungry and cold and hunted. I love you mom and dad. I am so sorry. … What is that? I’m scared to close my eyes and I’m scared to open them. I’m going to die out here“.
Mr. Driller: DrillLand (PC/Switch) – Releases Jun. 25th
A few weeks ago we discussed the 20 year old PlayStation release of the arcade port of the first Mr. Driller and I lamented that we hadn’t really heard of anything new in the franchise. Well I was stupid and totally forgot about this port of the GameCube title that was coming to Switch! Drill your way down, down, down, down, down to the bottom of oblivion, a deep, dark, downward spiral…
Blaster Master Zero I & II (PS4) – Releases Jun. 29th
Blaster Master Zero I & II are two of the most solid Switch titles out there. Stellar controls, beautiful graphics, and a killer soundtrack; who could ask for more? Well now all you PS4 loyalists can finally see what all the fuss is about when these titles arrive later this week. Hey, I’m not kidding, these games rule, so check ’em out.
Borderlands 3 – Bounty of Blood: A Fistfull of Redemption (PC/PS4/Xbox One) – Releases Jun. 25th
As the classic sci-fi series Firefly proved, only a very small group of people enjoy Westerns set in outer space. Leave it to the team at Gearbox to here these dozens of voices loud and clear and give us all the expansion that we sort of wanted, maybe. Featuring brand new mounted vehicles that are totally not the speeder bikes from Destiny, exotic plants that’ll get you fucking high, and new areas that are not just Western inspired, but ALSO Japanese inspired, because that’s what you fucking nerds like, right? Japanese shit? Anyway, I still haven’t taken my PS4 copy of this game out of the shrink wrap, but I’m like seven or eight games away from finally doing it in 2029. Hopefully the servers are still online when I do.
The Almost Gone (PC/Switch) – Releases Jun. 25th
PLOID Saga (PC/Switch) – Releases Jun. 25th
Urban Flow (Switch) – Releases Jun. 26th
Notable Releases from 10, 20 and 30 years ago:
We have a really stellar line up of notable games this week, however all are overshadowed by one in particular. What? Is it Columns? No, what…come one, what? No, give me a break. There’s no way in hell I’m going to write two long paragraphs about that game, pffft. Right?
Sin & Punishment: Star Successor (Wii) – Released Jun. 29th, 2010: Wiki Link
When it comes to Japanese games released at the tail end of a consoles life, us hardcore gamerz in the West sometimes get the short end of the stick. The cost and time to localize the game into English kept games like the original Final Fantasy II and Final Fantasy III from making it to the NES, among many others. One notable title that skipped a North American release was Treasure’s N64 masterpiece Sin & Punishment. A tour de force of arcade action, Sin & Punishment is one of the greatest N64 games ever made, and I don’t think that’s hyperbole, it’s phenomenal. In 2007, Nintendo released the game on the Wii’s Virtual Console, allowing those of us in the West to finally play the game without having to go through the sometimes expensive importing process (not to mention modding your console). With this release there was renewed interest in the series, so Nintendo reached out to Treasure to develop a sequel, giving Wii owners one of its greatest games, the near perfect Sin & Punishment: Star Successor. Like its predecessor, Star Successor is a quasi on rails shooter (similar to Space Harrier) that features many similarities to bullet hell or SHMUP games. Treasure was a master of this genre, often flipping it on its head, releasing several high profile shoot ’em up’s like Radiant Silvergun, Bangai-O, Silpheed: The Lost Planet,and Ikaruga, to name a few. The story in Star Successor is pretty convoluted (something about the children of the original protagonists or something), but really the big draw here is the gameplay and art, which was stunning for the Wii, giving the system some of its best visuals to date. A Wii U port would release in 2015 but, sadly, this would be the last original game Treasure would release in North America. Their next two efforts were Japan only 3DS titles, and by 2011 on 16 people worked there, who were mainly focused on porting their back catalog to modern consoles (Ikaruga specifically). Despite the critical acclaim, less than 500k copies were sold worldwide and likely means we won’t be seeing any new entries in this franchise from Nintendo. It’s a hidden gem folks, I can’t stress enough how awesome this game is. Play it!
The biggest showdown of 2000 wasn’t Bush v. Gore, nope, it was on June 29th when the PC got two huge games on the same day, Diablo II and Icewind Dale. It was a battle of titans; in one corner you had elite PC developers Blizzard, creators of such classics as Warcraft, Starcraft, and Diablo; in the other you had Black Isle Studios, whose games Fallout and Planescape: Torment delighted hardcore nerds beyond their wildest fantasies. With the PC gaming world on edge, everyone waited with baited breath to find out just who would come out on top (and hey, don’t forget that Deus Ex had come out six days earlier).
Normally you lead with the lesser title, but I like going in alphabetical order so I’m going to spoil things; Diablo II kicked Icewind Dale’s ass. I’m sure people have their preference, but in my book there is no comparison, Diablo II wipes the floor Black Isle’s title, which I find very impressive, because Icewind Dale is a triumph in its own right. Diablo II picks up almost directly after the events of the first game, in which the protagonist of that game is now the big baddie because wanted to contain Diablo by absorbing the dark lord into their body. This incredibly stupid idea backfired, causing the demon to corrupt the soul of the protagonist and turn them into a violent killing machine that could spawn endless hordes of evil creatures. As the new protagonist, you find yourself in a makeshift camp full of a few characters from the first game, as well as some new ones, and you are tasked with cleaning up the mess your predecessor has made. While the original Diablo featured you going down several levels of horror filled labyrinth after horror filled labyrinth, Diablo II turned the game into a sort of open world affair. Taking cues from earlier RPGs, your character would move around an overworld map fighting in randomly generated battles while exploring various underground dungeons and caves. A new quest system would give the game a bit more of a lived in feel and the inclusion of multiplayer meant you could put together makeshift D&D style parties with your friends on your quest for epic loot FTW. Overall there wasn’t a whole lot that needed to be improved upon, Diablo is one of the greatest games ever made. Diablo II was just an extension of that greatness, letting you go on a bigger, bolder adventure in a “living” world. Reception to the game was overwhelmingly positive, with critics calling one of the best games of the year and a must-own for all PC gamers. The annual DICE Awards would bestow three trophies to the game, Computer Game of the Year, Computer RPG of the Year, and the biggest award of the night, Game of the Year. Players were just as enthralled with the title, buying the game in droves, leading it to sell over 1 million copies in just two weeks and 2.75 million copies sold by the end of 2000. Again, I think it’s safe to say that Diablo II kicked Icewind Dale’s ass. Sorry.
While Diablo II was on an unprecedented sales and awards run, Black Isle Sudios’ D&D game was getting off to a modest start, and critics were impressed with the title, saying it was a good compliment to Diablo II. The game is very different, despite the similarities at first glance, with Icewind Dale feeling much more at home in the “hardcore gamer” space than the more “mainstream friendly” Diablo II. Tougher enemies, higher layers of detail/character customization, and a fully fleshed out NPC/Quest system, Icewind Dale was the game that fans of Baldur’s Gate or the early SSI gold box D&D games were used to. Set during the events of the popular Icewind Dale Trilogy by R.A. Salvatore, players could build their own party of characters (or use the balanced pre-made group) and venture off into the cold, harsh land of Icewind Dale. As with Diablo II, players could take on these challenges either alone or with a group of friends, but unlike Diablo II, there were always multiple characters whether you played solo or co-op. While critics were receptive to the game, it seemed most PC players were too obsessed with exploring the world that Blizzard had created, instead of exploring a world that, well, blizzards had created (you see what I did there). However, sales were still pretty steady, and actually slightly better than Black Isle had anticipated. Releasing your PC title on the same day as arguably the biggest PC game of the year would usually mean you have no confidence in it, or you’re a fool. Perhaps Black Isle Studios was both, but in the end Icewind Dale would only sell roughly 400,000 copies by the end of 2001. This was still an impressive number to the developer, but compared to Diablo II it’s just peanuts. The game would eventually get an expansion and a sequel, then an enhanced version would arrive on PC and mobile devices in 2014, with consoles getting releases in 2019. While Icewind Dale wouldn’t garner the same kind of sales and praise as Diablo II, it’s still a great game with lots to offer. If you slept on this back in 2000 I say give it try, just remember to equip your weapons and buy some armor before you fight those bugs in the tavern basement.
Columns (Genesis) – Released Jun. 29th, 1990: Wiki Link
Having only been on the market since August of 1989, the Sega Genesis was doing okay, but not great. We’ve already discussed their wonderfully cheeky “Genesis Does What Nintendon’t” ad campaign, with Sega trying to entice teenage boys with cool guys they could relate to like Pat Riley, Michael Jackson, Joe Montana, and Buster Douglas. One name that doesn’t usually get lumped into these is Jay Geertsen, who was part of a wave of game developers in the late 80’s/early 90’s who invented variations on the “match three” puzzle game. Let’s step back a bit, going to 1989 where Geertsen, an employee of Hewlett-Packard, was tasked with porting some HP software to the X11 open source windowing system. Finding the tutorials too dry and boring, Geertsen decided to create a game to make the learning process more fun and exciting. His goal was to create a simple tic-tac-toe style game, but with a bit more complexity and strategy. Instead of playing against an opponent you would play against, well, yourself, using your wits to match three of the same colored blocks in a row to make them disappear. Not being a fan of Tetris’ increasing speed difficulty setting, Geertsen wanted to keep the speed the same throughout your play session but increase the number of colors you’d see, making it more difficult to find matches as the game progressed. He was also particularly enthralled with the idea of chaining the blocks, leading to clearing much more of the screen than anticipated. The game would become a huge a hit around his office at HP, and after passing it along to some colleagues in California, the game was ported to DOS and passed around as shareware, finally making its way to the office of an unnamed attorney. Seeing dollar signs in his eyes, the lawyer tried to buy the full rights to the game from Geertsen, but since he built the game on company time and hardware, he reached out to HP for guidance. The company agreed to sell the rights to Columns, receiving a modest sum which they donated to charity, with Geertsen receiving a plaque commemorating the accomplishment. This would seem like a pitiful end to a rather stellar game, almost like what happened with Tetris creator Alexi Pajitnov, but then Sega came into the picture.
Like Atari/Tengen, Sega was also shafted in the Tetris deal thanks to all of the crazy rights issues surrounding that game. Looking for their own big puzzle game, a Sega executive named Steve Hanawa happened upon Columns while looking for someone to fill his old role after getting a promotion. One of the candidates he met with was obsessed with the shareware version of Columns on his PC, and after taking the game home and playing it for hours, Hanawa sent the game to Sega’s R&D department to see what they thought. Seeing a potential Tetris rival, Sega quickly moved to secure the rights to Columns, paying the attorney who initially bought the rights from HP for an undisclosed sum (I’m going to guess it was somewhere between a shit load and a fuck ton). Soon Columns arcade cabinets were popping up across Japan and North America, designed by Hisaki Namiya who recently had a hit with Cyber Police: ESWAT. Namiya, like most people who played the Columns, was entranced by it. He was impressed with the game that Jay Geertsen had made, saying it gave the Sega version a wonderful foundation to build on. Seeing that it was more than just a Tetris clone, Namiya took the core element of “match three” and iterated on it, adding various new gameplay features and extending the height and width of the play area. To differentiate the game from Tetris it was decided to turn the generic squares into gems that would explode upon a successful match, ka-boom! As for story, well, just like Tetris, there was no overarching narrative, just a suggestion of a theme. Where Tetris was themed after Russian history and culture, Columns would kind of gravitate towards Greek and/or Roman mythology. Famed for their columns in buildings like the Parthenon and the Pantheon, you would see images of ancient soldiers and heavenly goddesses playing the game on makeshift boards. The title was a big success for Sega and did help drive some sales of the Genesis, but the console still wasn’t in a place where Sega wanted it to be. Sega would keep trying though, and eventually they will become the biggest 16-bit platform in the world thanks to a little hedgehog named Sonic. Oh, and if you’re wondering about Jay Geertsen, well, he had zero involvement with Columns after Hewlett-Packard sold the rights to the game but he is still credited as the creator, and it is reported that he was over the moon when it became the pack-in title for Sega’s Game Gear in 1991 and he would see store displays running his little puzzle game. A modest guy made a modest game, I think we can all hold up our glasses to that. Cheers Jay Geertsen!
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