We’ve made it, folks. 2020 is almost in the rear view mirror and 2021 is coming up fast, doesn’t it seem like just yesterday that we were debating the backwards compatibility of the PS5, how many times Cyberpunk would get delayed, and what crazy sequel, either Zelda, Bayonetta, or Metroid, Nintendo would drop in November? Of course we have the ongoing COVID crisis to deal with, it’s not like that’s going to suddenly disappear on January 1st, 2021, but I’m hopeful that we’re turning a corner there, and not just on the virus, but on society as a whole. For the first time in about ten years I’m starting to feel optimistic again, maybe the best is yet to come…maybe…
Immortals Fenyx Rising (PC/PS4/PS5/Stadia/Switch/Xbox One/Series X|S) – Releases Dec. 3rd
This is what happens when you combine Breath of the Wild, God of War and every open world Ubisoft game. As the demi-god Fenyx, players will embark on a journey across a vast expanse of land, taking on quests and jobs as they attempt the save the gods and their home from an evil entity. It’s all pretty standard, boilerplate stuff, but it at least looks pretty.
Empire of Sin (PC/PS4/Switch/Xbox One) – Releases Dec. 1st
From Brenda and John Romero comes one of the oldest media genres in the book, yet one we don’t often see in video games. As the head of a crime family in Prohibition era Chicago, players will be tasked with taking over the city either through diplomatic means or the good old fashioned way, violence. Using an X-COM style battle system, players will move their units around the battlefield in an attempt to wipe out their rivals, gaining precious turf and resources in the aftermath. Early reviews have pegged the game as pretty but shallow, so maybe wait for a sale price on this one.
Twin Mirror (PC/PS4/Xbox One) – Releases Dec. 1st
From Dontnod Entertainment, creators of Life Is Strange, Vampyr, and Tell Me Why, comes another mystery adventure game set in a small town with lots of dark secrets. Aiming for a more “adventure game” feel than some of their previous entries, Twin Mirror focuses on an investigative journalist named Sam who has returned to his hometown in West Virginia in order to figure out what happened during a tragic accident. Using his “Mind Palace”, Sam will review events and try to come up with the correct answer, but be careful as his inner voice “The Double” will sometimes be helpful, but other times it may cause mischief and try to hinder you. With a single, self contained story, players will be able to get through Twin Mirror in one go, with no need to wait for a new episode to continue the story.
Worms Rumble (PC/PS4/PS5) – Releases Dec. 1st
If you had “Battle Royale Worms” on your bingo card, congratulations. As an added bonus, if you are a PlayStation+ subscriber you’ll get this game absolutely free!
Haven (PC/PS5/Xbox One/Series X|S) – Releases Dec. 3rd (PS4 & Switch are TBD)
In this open world, RPG adventure game, players take on the dual roles of a romantically involved couple as they try to navigate a hostile, unknown world. According to Steam, some of the key features include: “Play a relatable couple in an intimate relationship, treated with maturity and humor“, and “Immediate to play, accessible, a pause in a busy day, a game that will make you smile“, which are absolutely perfect for that 19 year old incel in your family.
Fire Emblem: Shadow Dragon and the Blade of Light (Switch) – Releases Dec. 4th
Thirty years ago Nintendo introduced Japanese players to the world and characters of the Fire Emblem series. This turn based strategy game was a big success there and was a franchise on par with Mario, Zelda, and Metroid. However, those of us in the West were not introduced to this game until two of its characters, Marth and Roy, appeared in Super Smash Bros. Melee for the GameCube in 2001. Two years later we’d finally get our first game in the series for the Game Boy Advance, and then each subsequent release thereafter. Yet the original story of Marth and his crew were still region locked. Studios Switch owners could gain access to the Japanese version of the game through the NES app if they created a Japanese account, but aside from ROM hacks, there was no English version of the game available, until now. With a professional, authorized, localization and a very cool, probably sold out, special edition release, the original NES Fire Emblem is now going to be available for those of us in the West. Hooray!
Ports and Re-releases:
Rainbow Six: Siege (PS5/Series X|S) – Releases Dec. 1st
Now you and the brochachos can fuck up some terrorists with sick ass next-gen graphics and load times.
Sam & Max Save The World Remastered (PC/Switch) – Releases Dec. 2nd
The famous duo Sam & Max are getting an upgrade with a remaster of their first batch of games from Telltale. Featuring all of the charm, and annoyance, of their earlier point & click adventure game, Sam & Max Save The World is a light-hearted romp that features former child stars, a new age cult, a giant Abraham Lincoln, and a trip to the moooooooon!
Shiren the Wanderer: The Tower of Fortune and the Dice of Fate (PC/Switch) – Releases Dec. 2nd
If you liked Chocobo’s Dungeon and Pokemon Mystery Dungeon, then you’ll LOVE Shiren the Wanderer. Taking the same basic premise, the hero Shiren must travel through several floors of a mysterious dungeon with his band of wacky party members, searching for treasure and stuff. This came out on the PS Vita a few years back, so it’s nice to finally have it arrive on a console that people actually bought.
Dragon Quest XI S (PC/PS4/Xbox One) – Releases Dec. 4th
*This is the same thing I wrote last time the game came out, except I’ve updated some of the text to apply to this current release* After being released in Japan in 2017, PC & PS4 in 2018, and Switch in 2019, the special edition version of Dragon Quest XI is now coming to the PS4, and also hitting the Xbox One for the first time, so say we all (so say we all). Unlike Final Fantasy, which transitioned into a more quasi-modern sci-fi setting, Dragon Quest has proudly stayed in the high fantasy realm. In this entry you play as a young villager who must complete a coming-of-age passage to determine if he is a man or not. Hijinks ensue.
FIFA 21 (PS5/Series X|S) – Releases Dec. 4th
I wonder what they’re going to do with these sports games when the same year they’ve already released a game for comes back around. Like in the year 2120 will the game still be called FIFA 21? #foodforthought #makesyougohuh
Madden 21 (PS5/Series X|S) – Releases Dec. 4th
I’ll admit that I have no real connection to this franchise, as big as it is. The picture above is slick and features a famous player, but it does nothing for me. Do any of you play Madden, or sports games in general? I haven’t played a football game regularly since Sega’s ESPN NFL 2K5, a series I found to always be vastly superior, so I almost take Madden’s release for granted. The best thing I can say about this series is that it brings non-gamers into the fold and helps to continue legitimizing video games as a whole. Plus you can have custom end zone dances; which button makes me dab?
Chronos: Before The Ashes (PC/PS4/Switch/Stadia/XBone) – Releases Dec. 1st
Project Wingman (PC) – Releases Dec. 1st
El Hijo – A Wild West Tale (PC/Stadia) – Releases Dec. 3rd
Morbid: The Seven Acolytes (PC/PS4/Switch/XBone) – Releases Dec. 3rd
Oniria Crimes (PC/PS4/Switch/XBone) – Releases Dec. 3rd
Per Aspera (PC) – Releases Dec. 3rd
Phogs! (PC/PS4/Stadia/Switch/XBone) – Releases Dec. 3rd
Pretty Princess Party (Switch) – Releases Dec. 3rd
Taiko No Tatsujin: Rhythmic Adventure Pack (Switch) – Releases Dec. 3rd
Wildfire (PS4/Switch/XBone) – Releases Dec. 3rd (PC back in May)
Fitness Boxing 2: Rhythm & Exercise (Switch) – Releases Dec. 4th
Drawn to Life: Two Realms (PC/Switch) – Releases Dec. 7th
Notable Releases from 10, 20 and 30 (and sometimes 40) years ago:
World of Warcraft: Cataclysm (PC) – Released Dec. 7th, 2010: Wiki Link
Six years after the release of Blizzard’s massively popular World of Warcraft, long time players saw one of the biggest overhauls to the game since it came out. With the return of the evil dragon Deathwing the Destroyer, the land of Azeroth was decimated, leaving a cataclysmic level of destruction that reshaped the two main continents of Kalimdor and Eastern Kingdoms. Areas of the map previously accessible were now blocked off by water or lava and the zones would take on an overall new look. Players and critics were blown away by the amount of new and varied content that Cataclysm brought to the game, and were happy to see that areas they viewed as stale were getting much needed changes to make them feel fresh again. Not only were the environments updated, but the core gameplay was also changed to streamline various systems in regards to special moves and combat, cycling out old ones stuff that was no longer deemed necessary, and leaving room for things to grow in the future. However, one thing not growing was the player base. Over the next two years, the subscription numbers for WoW would drop from an all time high of 12 million, to a (still remarkable) 9.1 million. As of 2015, the last time Blizzard released subscriber numbers, there were still 5.6 million people subscribed, with an estimated 4.8 million still playing today. Like a lot of the games old content, Cataclysm comes free with the base version of the game, meaning that if you’ve slept on this 16 year old game then you’ll be able to play through all of that content with relative ease. I still like Final Fantasy XIV better.
American McGee’s Alice (PC) – Released Dec. 6th, 2000: Wiki Link
Evil Dead: Hail to the King (PlayStation) – Released Dec. 5th, 2000: Wiki Link
Ah, Christmas, a time for families to gather together in joyful merriment to sing songs, have food, and exchange gifts. In the year 2000, edgy teens (and equally edgy twenty-somethings) had two dark and disturbing games to put on their list to Santa. Ho, ho, hkkkghhhhh, gahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh!! YOU’RE KILLING SANTA!!! WHY??? WHHHHHHHHHYYY!!!!!???
Game designer American McGee got his start working for id Software in the 90’s working on the Doom and Quake franchises. Despite the prolific work he was doing at the studio, McGee would be fired from id in 1998, and then soon afterwards would take a position at EA. His debut project with the studio was a dark reimagining of the Alice in Wonderland story, simply titled Alice (or American McGee’s Alice). The inspiration for Alice’s dark and surreal tone came from McGee’s own upbringing. Raised by his mother and a multitude of step fathers, McGee would come home from school one day at the age of 16 to find his house was abandoned and empty. His mother and her latest beau had sold the house and their belongings in order to buy plan tickets and pay for his latest step father’s gender reassignment surgery. With only his bed, his books, his clothes, and his Commodore 64, McGee was left to fend for himself, causing him to drop out of school and become a mechanic at a Volkswagen dealership. By 21 he would move into the same apartment complex as John Carmack, setting him on his path as a game designer. McGee’s big reason for doing a game about Alice in Wonderland was his desire to never have to make another game involving space marines, aliens, or guns. He was also inspired to make a game that took place in a fantasy world, as he felt modern technology wasn’t at a place yet where you could easily recreate the real world, and Alice’s fantastic locations allowed his team to explore asymmetrical level design and free themselves from realistic proportions and settings. Using a modified version of the id Tech 3 engine, McGee and his team set out to make a third person action/adventure game in the mold of Tomb Raider. Players would be able to control Alice as she would run, jump, swing, and climb around the various locations in Wonderland, dodging and fighting various enemies such as playing card soldiers and giant bugs. The game received generally favorable reviews, however one gaming outlet of the day, Old Man Murray, was less impressed with the title, saying it was not only trying too hard to be edgy, but failed at it on every level as most games are already murder-a-thon’s chock full of gore and violence. In the end, Alice would be a modest success, and EA’s first M rated title, a point that McGee was first proud of, but over time felt was unnecessary, claiming his game was not as violent as he originally made it out to be, I guess OMM was right.
If edgy Alice In Wonderland didn’t float your boat, then maybe a brand new entry in the cult classic Evil Dead series will fulfill your dark & brooding 2000’s headspace. Set eight years after the events of Army of Darkness, Hail to the King finds the reluctant hero Ash once again fighting off hordes of deadites after returning, YET AGAIN, to the cabin where the Necronomicon resides. Technically he didn’t want to go back, but after suffering from awful nightmares, his new girlfriend Jenny insists they go back, and from here his old possessed hand turns on the tape deck which summons the deadites back to Earth. With his trusty chainsaw and boom stick, Ash embarks on a journey to recover some missing pages of the Necronomicon and an ancient Kandarian dagger, all needed to send the dead back to Hell where they belong. With the success of Resident Evil and a handful of other survival horror games, Hail to the King eschews very, very closely to that formula, from tank controls to inventory management, it’s a pretty blatant rip-off, er, inspiration. This lack of originality was not lost on critics, who though the game was outright awful. While the title was out first on the PS ONE, a Dreamcast version would come out a couple weeks later, to even worse reviews. Somehow, the graphics and controls were WORSE on that console in comparison to the PlayStation, and buyers were warned to stay as far away from this game as Ash should stay away from the cabin. However, being the intrepid Evil Dead fan I am, I eagerly pre-ordered this title, played it for a few hours, and eventually gave up due to its piss poor controls and and archaic game play. Despite the poor reception, two more Evil Dead games would come out in the ensuing years, switching to a more arcade style of gameplay, making the flawed Hail to the King a slightly more terrifying experience.
TurboExpress – Released Dec. 1990: Wiki Link
Bonk’s Adventure (TurboGrafx-16) – Released Dec. 1990: Wiki Link
After a little over a year on the market, NEC’s TurboGrafx-16 wasn’t exactly lighting up the sales charts, but it was doing okay. However, their foray into the handheld gaming space, one that was easily led by Nintendo, was admirable, yet wholly rejected by the consumer. At first glance, the TurboExpress is a fantastic piece of hardware. Featuring a backlit LCD screen capable of displaying 512 simultaneous colors, the device was essentially a portable TurboGrafx-16, and even played every game in that console’s library. With an additional TV antenna adapter, you could even watch television on the go. All this hardware and power didn’t come cheap though, and with an astronomical price tag of $249.99, the device was obscenely expensive for 1990 (around $480 today), oh, and if you want the TV adapter, add on another $100 bucks. Those who did shell out the dough for the TurboExpress were met with another hit to their pocketbook, as the device required six AA batteries, and lasted about three hours, compared to the Game Boy which lasted 40 hours on 4 AA batteries. Players could combat this problem by purchasing the A/C adapter, but that effectively makes the device no longer portable, just a really, and I mean really, tiny TV. At 2.6 inches, it was laughably small, making games difficult to see and text nearly impossible to read. It also didn’t help that the LCD screen they used was a brand new, mostly untested, piece of hardware, and came with a slew of display problems, including dead pixels. The device was too ahead of its time, costing so much that it priced most gamers out, and featured so many cheap and/or untested parts that it could easily break and be rendered unusable. NEC needed a win, and quick.
Like its 16-bit rival the Sega Genesis, TurboGrafx-16 tried hard to cater to an older crowd. With no cutesey mascot, the TurboGrafx-16 was bundled with the title every teen was dying to get, Keith Courage In Alpha Zones…right. A year earlier in December, 1989, a title came out in Japan for the PC Engine called BC Genjin, featuring a plucky young cave man named BC that had a head as hard as a rock, and used it to smash anything he didn’t like. When it came time to localize the game for North America, the publishers renamed the character and game to Bonk, thus Bonk’s Adventure popped into stores in the holiday season of 1990. Again, like their rivals at Sega, who would gain popularity with a certain blue hedgehog in the near future, NEC saw sales of the TurboGrafx-16 increase once Bonk was on the scene. Seeing it as a way to breath life into the system, NEC would kick Keith Courage to the curb and make Bonk’s Adventure the new pack-in title for the TurboGrafx-16. Critics adored the title, with praise given to the stunning graphics and inventive level design. Popular magazine Entertainment Weekly said it was the third best game to buy in 1991, after #2’s Super R-Type and #1’s Sonic The Hedgehog (hey, look at that…). After the demise of NEC and the TurboGrafx brand, the game’s developer Hudson Soft would port Bonk’s Adventure to the NES and Game Boy, and would eventually make its way to the Wii and Wii U’s Virtual Console library, where it would (supposedly) be one of the most downloaded titles in the entire VC collection. There hasn’t been a new Bonk game for several years, and with Hudson Soft non-existent it’s hard to say if we’ll ever get another one.
Pac-Man (Arcade) – Released Dec. 1980: Wiki Link
As far as video game icons go, Pac-Man is perhaps the biggest of all time. When Japanese video game publisher Namco bought the rights to the Japanese division of Atari in 1974 they decided to begin developing their own titles in-house. What followed were some fairly uninspired Breakout clones called Gee Bee, Bomb Bee and Cutie Q, none of which made a dent in the growing arcade market in both Japan and North America. The developer of those games, Toru Iwatani, was dissatisfied with the current state of the arcade scene, feeling it was too masculine driven and severely underserved women. To combat this he decided to come up with an entirely new type of game, one that would appeal to both men and women. To get inspiration, Iwatani tried to think of something women loved to do, and then it hit him, THEY LOVE TO EAT; (insert eye roll…). That stupid idea aside, Iwatani knew he had something special. In keeping with the food motif, Pac-Man’s iconic circle shape was, allegedly, based on a pizza with one of the slices taken out. This piece of trivia, however, was later slightly debunked by Iwatani himself who said that it was only half true, as we also said the design was based on a modified version of the Japanese character “kuchi” which means “mouth”. The various fruits that Pac-Man can eat were inspired by slot machines, I assume another “favorite” past time of Japanese women. As for the ghosts that chase Pac-Man, initially Namco ordered Iwatani to make them all red, but in an effort to inject some world building into the game, he decided to give each ghost a unique color and name, a feat made possible by Namco’s recent breakthrough in RGB color technology on the game Galaxian. With Pac-Man’s goal and enemies figured out, there was just one more thing to do, find a setting for all of this. Once again we have to assume things, as there isn’t much information on this, but the maze setting of Pac-Man was, allegedly, based on the Sega game Head On. In Head On, players would control one of four race cars, moving around a maze trying to collect more white dots than all the other players. Pac-Man took this concept and altered it to what we all know today, with players controlling the titular character as he moves around a maze, eating pellets and avoiding ghosts. When Pac-Man eats a power pellet he will grow stronger for a short period of time, causing the ghosts to turn blue and become edible. This simple concept, with its bright colors and deemphasis on violence did exactly what Iwatani had hoped it would do, bring women and other casual gamers into the arcades. Originally titled Pakkuman, before settling on Puck Man, the game was a smash hit in Japan when it dropped in the Summer of 1980.
Seeing a potential gold mine on their hands, Namco partnered with the Chicago based Midway Games to quickly localized the title for its North American debut, but there was one big problem, the name. Realizing that the name Puck Man could easily be altered to Fuck Man by unscrupulous ne’re-do-well’s, the game was rebranded as Pac-Man, a name that more closely resembled the original Pakkuman title. The response in North America was even greater than Namco expected, where the title would do better business than it did in Japan (Pac-Man was actually beat out in revenue by Galaxian). Coming at the end of 1980 it didn’t leave much of an impression on that year, instead gaining most of its notoriety over the next two years, pulling in over $1 billion in sales, overtaking Asteroids as the number one game in America, and beating Star Wars as the highest grossing piece of entertainment of all time. With arcades devoting entire rows of their stock to Pac-Man, the game became a worldwide phenomenon, leading to breakfast cereals, lunchboxes, t-shirts, toys, cartoon shows, and even a hit song called Pac-Man Fever by artist Bucker & Garcia. Pac-Man’s influence on video games and pop culture is staggering, with the character being one of the most recognizable video game characters in the world. A (superior) sequel, Ms. Pac-Man would follow in 1982, the first of many, MANY, Pac-Man sequels to be released over the course of 40 years, it’s latest version arriving just a few weeks ago on Stadia. While characters like Mario, Sonic, and Master Chief might be more well known today, you can’t have a modern video game industry without Pac-Man, and maybe a certain rough and tumble gorilla, but that story will have to wait until next year…
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