*ONE WEEK UNTIL THE NEW CONSOLES ARRIVE*
We’re down to the wire here, folks. Just think, this is the last week that the PS4 and Xbox One are considered the current generation of game consoles, why does the time fly so fast? I went to Game Stop this weekend and noticed that they no longer have any PS3, Xbox 360, Wii, or Wii U games on their shelves making them…RETRO GAMES! I would also be remiss if I didn’t mention that today is also Election Day, and with the Presidency on the line, and probably the fate of our country, it’s a bit strange to celebrate games being released, but here we are. My chest hurts.
Need For Speed: Hot Pursuit Remastered (PC/PS4/Switch/Xbox One) – Releases Nov. 6th
Released back in November, 2010, Need For Speed: Hot Pursuit was seen as a throwback to the series early days where you would drive fast cars in an attempt to evade the police, and vice versa. Now with the upcoming remaster, the same gameplay you remember is being brought to, um, “current gen” systems, and will include all of the content from the original game as well as all DLC.
Bakugan Battle League Champion (Switch) – Releases Nov. 3rd
In the wake of Pokemon’s success came the inevitable copycats. Titles like Digimon, Beyblade and Yu-Gi-Oh littered the landscape, taking various elements from Pokemon and putting their own unique on it. 2006’s Bakugan, a joint effort between Sega Toys and the Canadian company Spin Master, was a fairly popular show with children that ran for six years on Cartoon Network before it finally lost steam. I guess nostalgia finally caught up with them and it was announced that the series would be returning with a new season in 2019. With a new show also comes a new game in which players leave on a quest to collect the strongest Bakugan in an effort to win battles and become a world renowned trainer. I mean, if you already have Pokemon I am not sure what the point of picking this up would be, aside from being a hardcore fan.
Cafe Enchante (Switch) – Releases Nov. 5th
Otome fans rejoice, you have a new romantic story to embark on! As the new owner of a small cafe in Tokyo, mild mannered Kotone must deal with the pressures of running a business while navigating the choppy waters of romance. The hook here is that the men in your life are all typical fantasy RPG archetypes, with the ability to meet and fall in love with a demon king, a beastman, or a fallen angel, among others.
Dirt 5 (PC/PS4/Xbox One) – Releases Nov. 6th
VROOOMMMM, VRRROOMMMM, REOWWWWWW, REERRRRR, RRRRRRTTTTT!!! Is Dirt the all time worst name for a game series?
Ports and Re-releases:
Jurassic World: Evolution (Switch) – Releases Nov. 3rd
Apex Legends (PC – Steam) – Releases Nov. 4th
You can finally play Apex Legends through Steam. What a world.
Pokemon Sword/Shield + Expansions (Switch) – Releases Nov. 6th
Nearly a year after it released, Pokemon Sword and Shield is being re-released for the Switch, but this time it will contain all of the content from the expansion pass. What makes this interesting is that the entire thing comes on one cartridge, meaning no download is required, saving you space on the Switch’s abysmally small hard drive.
Tropico 6 (Switch) – Releases Nov 6th
L.O.L. Surprise! Remix: We Rule The World (Switch) – Releases Nov. 3rd
My Universe: School Teacher (PS4/Switch/Xbox One) – Releases Nov. 3rd
Chicken Police (PC/PS4/Xbox One) – Releases Nov. 5th
Paw Patrol: Mighty Pups Save Adventure Bay (PC/PS4/Switch/Xbox One) – Releases Nov. 6th
Notable Releases from 10, 20 and 30 years ago:
Kinect (Xbox 360) – Released Nov. 4th, 2010: Wiki Link
Here it is folks, the future of gaming and home entertainment as we know it; the Kinect. Tired of playing games with a controller? Tired of using a remote to find all of those TV shows and movies you watch on your console? Tired of ordering pizza on the phone like a stupid chump? Your prayers have been answered by the dazzling new technology of the Microsoft Kinect!! Introduced at E3 2009 as Project Natal, Microsoft was sure they were going to have a revolutionary new product, and even brought out filmmaker Steven Spielberg to discuss the limitless possibilities that playing games with no controller would bring to the consumer. A year later we would finally get to see the device “in action” at E3 2010 with Microsoft’s now notorious press conference. With multiple awkward moments, some of the highlights included a dorky white guy dancing, a child petting a tiger named Skittles, and numerous moments of awkward developers pretending to play Kinect games in front of a giant audience of people. To be fair, these conferences are generally lame and it must be hard to go out in front of a crowd of cynical gaming fans and journalists as you try to sell your mass market toy, but still, this thing looked stupid.
Hardcore gamers were not the market for the Kinect, Microsoft wanted to tap into that mass audience of casual gamers that Nintendo had discovered with the Wii in 2006. With its impressive HD graphics and “no controller” gimmick, the Kinect sold like gangbusters with over 8 million units shipped in the first 60 days, a new record for a consumer electronics device. When it released, the Kinect had 17 launch games, an impressive number, and was bundled with Kinect Adventures, the sort of Wii Play of the device, showcasing may different types of games you could play with the Kinect. However, while sales of the Kinect were impressive, the attach rate was abysmal, with most people failing to purchase more than one (if any) extra games for the device. In fact, while the Kinect sold well, it was still only purchased by roughly 20% of current Xbox 360 owners. It seems that Microsoft’s desire to cater to the casual crowd had left their most hardcore supporters out of the picture. Kinect games were still released on a regular basis throughout the rest of the 360’s lifespan, and Microsoft even attempted to get hardcore gamers back on board with it by having various third party titles use the device to help “enhance” the gameplay experience. However, when their next console, the Xbox One, was announced, Microsoft declared that the new version of Kinect would be bundled with it and you’d be required to have it plugged in at all times or the Xbox One would not function. Couple this with a major push on making the XBone an “all in one” entertainment machine, with games seemingly pushed to the background, and suddenly there was major damage to the brand, putting Microsoft well behind Sony when the next generation of consoles launched in 2013. With their fortunes turning, Microsoft quickly abandoned the Kinect and by 2017 they discontinued all production on the device, killing it off for good. The Kinect was a fun diversion for sleepovers, college dorms, and large get togethers with family and friends, but it was no way to play games on a serious level. Just like some of the more motion control heavy games on the Wii, there was no way to just sit down and enjoy these games in a long form capacity. Ultimately, the revolution never happened, like Spielberg said, “…I think what Microsoft is doing is not about reinventing the wheel, it’s about no wheel at all“. Microsoft took their hands off the wheel and crashed the car in the process.
Jet Grind Radio (Dreamcast) – Released Oct. 31st, 2000: Wiki Link
Shenmue (Dreamcast) – Released Nov. 8th, 2000: Wiki Link
With just a little over a year in the market, the Dreamcast was floundering. Sega was feeling the financial burden, particularly in Japan, where they were forced to close several of their arcades due to declining attendance. Software sales for the Dreamcast were abysmal in Japan, with titles failing left and right. However, the U.S. and Europe were loving the machine, buying games about as quickly as they released, including two very unique ones that released in the Fall of 2000.
Originally released in Japan on June 29th, 2000, Jet Set Radio (renamed Jet Grind Radio) would release in North America a few months later on Halloween, for some inexplicable reason. Set in the not too distant future, the game centers on a gang of inline skaters who are in a battle with other skaters to control the streets of Tokyo-to. In their quest to be the dominant rollerblade gang, protagonist Beat and posse The GGs discover that a huge corporation is trying to summon demons in a bid to rule the world. The plot continues to get weirder and weirder until you finally stop the company’s CEO, Goji Rokkaku, from playing a demonic record, before ultimately learning that it never had any special powers at all, Goji was just crazy. The story doesn’t really matter because the game is all about doing cool tricks and tagging graffiti all over town. The tone and style are what really sell the game, as the actual gameplay itself is a bit clunky and difficult to control. Critical reception was positive, particularly for it’s unique new art style called cel shading. By using this technique the developers were able to make Jet Grind Radio look like a cartoon come to life. As the game centers on a demonic record, music plays a big part in the game, which had many critics praising the game’s funky, hip-hop beats, but finding the inclusion of a Rob Zombie song in North America to be a baffling choice. The positive critical reception translated into numerous award nominations, including Game of the Year at both the GDC Awards and the D.I.C.E. Awards. A sequel would arrive on Microsoft’s Xbox after Sega pulled the plug on the Dreamcast, and an HD remaster of the game would come out for the PC, PS3, and 360 in 2012. If you’ve never experienced this game then you’re really missing out, it’s a fun blast from the past and should be part of any serious gamer’s collection.
Speaking of all-time greats that should be part of any gamer’s collection, we have the infamous Shenmue. From Yu Suzuki, the man behind arcade hits like Hang-On and Virtua Fighter, Shenmue was a big departure for him. Originally conceived as a RPG Virtua Fighter spin-off for the Saturn, the game switched over to the Dreamcast when that console failed to make a splash. After some tinkering, the Virtua Fighter connection was dropped and the characters and settings we all know began to take form. For those unfamiliar, Shenmue follows the story of Ryo Hazuki, a teenage martial artist who witnesses the murder of his father at the hands of the villainous Lan Di, who also steals an important artifact in the process. Vowing to take revenge, Ryo sets out in search of Lan Di by gathering clues in the city of Dobuita, which eventually leads him to a man named Master Shen who tells Ryo that his father was the guardian of two magical artifacts, the Dragon Mirror and the Phoenix Mirror. Lan Di needs both artifacts to become invincible (or something), so Ryo must protect the Phoenix Mirror at all costs, while also fulling his personal quest for revenge. Normally this kind of video game story would be told over a smattering of beat ’em up levels with Ryo mowing through waves of enemies, wrapping up nicely with a final fight against Lan Di, but not Shenmue.
Suzuki was looking for something different with his new title, and with the help of a screenwriter, a playwright, and several film directors, an epic story was crafted that would have players living the every day, mundane, life of Ryo as he gathered clues about the men involved with his father’s murder and the importance of the mirrors. In a way, Shenmue was a kind of throwback to the point and click adventure games that Sierra and LucasArts had been making for nearly 15 years, with Ryo talking to people, collecting items, and looking at objects in order to advance the story. It is this mechanic that starts to divide people on how great the game actually is. Shenmue is, generally, considered to be one of the greatest games ever made, but not everyone was on board with it. Before the term “walking simulator” started to take form, Shenmue was, somewhat, a pioneer in the so called genre. You spend much of your time walking around Dobuita and the surrounding townships passing the time before an event happens. With a simulated night to day cycle, some things must be done during the day and some at night. Need to question sailors at the bar; wait until 7:00pm. Need to talk to Charlie at the arcade; meet him tomorrow at 3:00pm. Thankfully this isn’t Animal Crossing’s real time hours, it’s an in-game clock that ticks down each hour in roughly four minutes. Still, that’s a lot of time to just stand around waiting, so to pass the time you can train your moves at the park, buy small trinkets from gacha machines, or play some games at the arcade, including full versions of both Hang-On and Space Harrier (a groundbreaking idea at the time).
This still didn’t silence every critic, with the detractors to the game still calling it an incredibly boring slog with very little redeeming qualities; ouch. I tend to fall on the side of the game being good, but I can see where the distaste comes from. Perhaps my years of playing point and click adventures on my PC as a kid conditioned me accept slow paced games, however Shenmue isn’t just all walking and talking. Occasionally you are tasked with fighting off enemies, putting all that extra training in your downtime to good use, with a pretty robust fighting system. Not only that, but Shenmue is perhaps best known for introducing the world to the love it or hate it system of quick time events, or QTEs. If you don’t know what a QTE is, in various parts of the game you will be thrust into an event. As button prompts appear on screen you must push it within a certain time limit or fail. Some QTEs can be failed to hilarious effect and still complete the task, while if others, usually the final prompt, are failed then you’d have to start over again. The QTE system has been used countless times in multiple other games, including the God of War series and just about every Tell Tale adventure game, and they have been met with varying degrees of positive/negative reactions. These new systems put the price to develop Shenmue through the roof, and with a reported budget of $70 million USD it was the most expensive game ever made at the time. Over 1 million units of Shenmue were sold, but because of the Dreamcast’s low install base it was considered both a success and a failure. It was successful in that just about anyone who owned a Dreamcast bought a copy, but it would never be enough to recoup the costs. Despite this, the game would have a sequel on Microsoft’s Xbox, and a Kickstarter for a third release was famously announced at Sony’s 2015 E3 press conference where it earned roughly $6 million USD during it’s campaign. The legacy of Shenmue was felt in multiple games afterwards, from the aforementioned QTEs, as well as the rise in popularity of the open world genre (iterated and perfected a year later by Rockstar’s GTA III). While it has divided critics and gamers for twenty years, the influence of Shenmue on video games is still felt today in every slow, methodical indie walking sim, to the inclusion of classic, real life, playable games in modern titles, to the resurgence of point and click style adventure games. I can’t really say you NEED to go back and play Shenmue (if you want something close to it, and better, play the Yakuza games), but from a historical standpoint it is something you should try to experience just to see how far we’ve come from it’s pioneering first steps.
King’s Quest V: Absence Makes The Heart Go Yonder! (PC) – Released Nov. 9th, 1990: Wiki Link
With several million copies of the King’s Quest series sold since its debut in 1984, Sierra On-Line’s Roberta Williams was a one woman hit machine that couldn’t be stopped. Dubbed the “Steven Spielberg of gaming” due to her penchant for releasing quality work time and time again, anticipation for King’s Quest V was high in the Fall of 1990. Set not too long after the events of King’s Quest III and IV, part V, Absence Makes The Heart Go Yonder, finds player’s taking on the role of King Graham, for the third time in the series, on a quest to rescue his family and recover his castle which have been shrunk and put into a bottle by the evil wizard Mordack. Graham meets a talking owl named Cedric who witnessed the castle being stole and brings Graham to the land of Serenia, a location last seen in an early Roberta William’s game called Wizard and the Princess. In Serenia, Graham meets the kind wizard Crispin who bestows upon him a magical wand that has, well, lost its magical power. Over the course of the next few hours, players find themselves wandering around Serenia meeting a multitude of fairy tale creatures who will either help or hinder him. As with most point and click adventure games, the cornerstone of the gameplay is puzzle solving, using the various items littered around the game to complete tasks that are as simple as throwing a fish to a bear to make it go away, to throwing a pie in a yeti’s face to make it fall off a cliff. As is typical for a Sierra game, players can die in a multitude of stupid ways, and if you don’t have a specific item from the first hour of the game when you’re reached the ending 3 or 4 hours later, you’re fucked, and you’ll have to start all over again (or at least from an earlier save point if you’re smart enough to remember to do that). As with LucasArts’ The Secret of Monkey Island, King’s Quest V was made to support both cutting edge VGA graphics as well as the previous standard of EGA graphics. In fact, King’s Quest V was the last Sierra game to support EGA and Tandy graphics, which may be part of the reason why it sold so well, as it could cater to a larger market.
Critical reception was very positive, with much praise given to the beautiful graphics, but there were some who thought the puzzles were too easy to figure out (I guess?), and perhaps the biggest knock against the game was its seemingly endless desert section that would eventually kill you if you didn’t find an oasis to drink water from. Despite these criticisms, the game went on to sell over 500,000 copies in its lifetime, and is seen as an all time great of the genre. As mentioned earlier, the events of this game would lead to King’s Quest VI: Heir Today, Gone Tomorrow, with Prince Alexander falling in love with a slave girl in Mordack’s castle, the beautiful Cassima. Part VII would arrive a few years after that, and then the final game in the series, Mask of Eternity, would arrive in 1998 to a poor reception by both critics and fans, putting the series on ice for seventeen years. A re-imagining of the games would arrive in 2015, loosely retelling the events of the first three-ish games, to a positive critical response, but ultimately failed to put the series back on the map. Thankfully we still have access to the entire King’s Quest library through digital stores like GOG, making sure that players new and old can still take the time to help out King Graham and his family defeat many evil wizards and witches, just don’t expect Cedric to go in there, he had a run-in with a big dog last time.
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