Do you hear that? It’s the sound of game companies closing up shop in preparation for the Christmas holiday, putting the final touches on their games before they head home to feast on roasted goose and candied yams (or recover from the crunch). This is also going to be the final week of regular coverage here at New Game Releases, now the real work begins as I prepare the 2020 Buying Guide, the Notable Events from 10, 20, 30 (and I guess 40) years ago, and the 2021 preview. 2020 has been one of the most difficult years to get through, a lot of people are struggling mentally, financially, so it’s going to be nice to finally move past it and hope for a better year to come. Thank you for hanging out here every Tuesday, I couldn’t have asked for a better group of people to talk with about my favorite hobby.
Cyberpunk 2077 (PC/PS4/Stadia/Xbox One) – Releases Dec. 10th
Along with the PS5 and Xbox Series X, Cyberpunk 2077 is probably one of the most anticipated releases of 2020. Delayed at least three times that we know of, including a hilariously devastating final hours delay back in October, the team at CD Projekt Red have been working (probably literally) tirelessly to finally get the game out to the public for its December 10th release. Set in a bleak future where the Earth has been ravaged by the progress of humankind, you are some kind of cyber junkie living in the last great metropolis of the world. Tasked with recovering some kind of pointless MacGuffin, players will embark on a massive quest to be the best…cyber…thing…or whatever; who cares? Made by the same team that worked on the masterpiece The Witcher 3, expect plenty of things to do and explore, immerse yourself in a dystopian future that might not be too far off from where we actually end up in 57 years. Despite the hype, Cyberpunk 2077 is mired in controversy, not just because of the delays, the game is yet another in a long line of AAA titles to use (mandatory) crunch to finish the game, despite a promise that they wouldn’t. This crunch is seen as a necessary evil in the world of video games, so at what point do we, as players, finally tell the developers that enough is enough? Can we? Do we even want to? Another major point of contention comes from the representation of trans people in the game, with a rather infamous image of an in-game energy drink ad featuring a grotesquely large outline of a penis on a stereotypically thin female model. This image, along with various player choices, and even communication from the studio itself, has some people calling the game transphobic. Finally, as if those last two weren’t enough, the game has seemed to attract alt-right, gamergate type dip shits en masse, putting a dark cloud over anything associated with the game. Did any of these things cause me to stay away from the game? No, I pre-ordered it last year like a bunch of other people, but what it has done is made me aware of what to expect, and has caused me to try and make my experience with the game as pleasant as I can possibly make it. CD Projekt Red might have made this world, but I’m going to control how I navigate through it.
My current mood after reading Cyberpunk 2077 reviews and seeing news about the seizure inducing sequences:
Call of the Sea (PC/Xbox One/Series X|S) – Releases Dec. 8th
Fans of titles like Gone Home and Firewatch should pay close attention to Call of the Sea, the latest adventure puzzle game from the new studio Out Of The Blue, based out of Madrid, Spain. While the game takes inspiration from the themes presented in the works of H.P. Lovecraft, the developers have stressed that this is not a horror game, and that instead of a descent into madness, it is more of an ascension into sanity. Set in the 1930’s, players take on the role of a woman named Nora who is searching a mysterious island for her missing husband. Along the way players will have to solve a variety of brain teasers in order to progress, leaning more and more about what happened on the island. This is also a rare console exclusive for Microsoft, making it one of the first games to only be available on the Series X|S and not the PlayStation 5.
Puyo Puyo Tetris 2 (PC/PS4/PS5/Switch/Xbox One/Series X|S) – Releases Dec. 8th
One of the early titles in the Switch library was the delightful Puyo Puyo Tetris, a puzzle game that mashed together two of the most popular franchises in the genre. I’m not sure they really needed to make a second one, but what do I know? Now we’re here, a sequel to a puzzle game that features pretty much the exact same content as its predecessor. One new change, apparently the characters now have special abilities that can be used during matches as you attempt to thwart your opponent. Pretty tight.
Medal of Honor: Above and Beyond (Oculus/Steam VR) – Releases Dec. 11th
Typically I don’t highlight VR games in this column because, well, most of them look really bad. This week is different, though, because the new Medal of Honor looks really flashy and almost, almost, makes me want to get a VR headset (I won’t though). Unlike the last two Medal of Honor games that took place in a modern warfare setting (not to be confused with Modern Warfare), this new entry brings the series back to its roots by placing the game in Eastern Europe during WWII. Initially conceived as a standard FPS game, a meeting with Facebook executives caused the team to suddenly change course and switch to a VR format (I’m sure money did most of the talking). With a core team made up of developers who worked on Medal of Honor: Allied Assault, this title looks to have promise, and with March’s Half-Life: Alyx, VR might have had its best year to date.
Ports and Re-releases:
Annapurna Interactive Deluxe Limited Edition (PS4) – Releases Dec. 8th
Prestige film distributor Annapurna Pictures has been releasing equally prestigious games from its Interactive division since 2017. Now eight of those titles have been given the physical treatment and boxed together in a handsome collectors package that will look great on the shelf next to your copy that Wes Anderson book and The Complete Guide To The Simpsons.
Destiny 2 (PS5/Series X|S) – Releases Dec. 8th
Destiny 2 players who have upgraded their consoles will now be happy to see that their favorite time-suck has been ported to next-gen. If you’ve stayed away from Destiny all these years, well, don’t; it’s very fun.
Doom Eternal (Switch) – Releases Dec. 8th
One of 2020’s best shooters is now portable, hooray! One thing to note, this does not contain any of the DLC, it is just the original base game.
Space Invaders Forever (PS4/Switch) – Releases Dec. 11th
If prestige indie titles aren’t your thing, maybe blasting alien invaders from space is more your route. In Space Invaders Forever, play 1 of 3 classic versions of one of the biggest arcade games of all time. Featuring the original game (with enhanced graphics and sound), an even more enhanced version called Gigamax 4, and a crossover you didn’t know you needed until now, Arkanoid vs. Space Invaders.
Collection of SaGa: Final Fantasy Legend (Switch) – Releases Dec. 15th
Okay, so indie games and arcade shooters aren’t doing it for you, how about a trio of portable JRPGs? Like last year’s Collection of Mana, Square Enix has bundled together three of their classic titles in one package, this time putting out the first three SaGa games, or as they were known in the West, Final Fantasy Legend. Know for their unique take on the JRPG genre, it will be nice to finally have legal versions of these games to play either at home or on the go.
Wattam (PC – Steam) – Releases Dec. 18th
This delightful little game from the creator of Katamari Damacy has been on the Epic Store for a year, but now that timed exclusivity is up and Steam loyalists can now add it their library. Oh, its also been on PS4 this whole time as well, and is part of that Annapurna Interactive deluxe set.
Bit.Trip Beat/Core/Fate/Flux/Runner/Void (Switch) – Releases Dec. 25th
The brilliant Bit.Trip franchise will now be complete on Switch this Christmas Day when all six of their classic titles hit the platform.
Nioh 2: The First Samurai (PS4) – Releases Dec. 17th
Nioh 2 is probably one of the most overshadowed games of 2020. Releasing just a week before Animal Crossing and Doom its initial release was overshadowed. When Ghost of Tsushima released it was overshadowed in the samurai genre. Finally, when Demon’s Souls was released it got overshadowed again in the “soulsborne” category. Well fuck that, Nioh 2 is a treasure and you should all be playing it.
Unto The End (PC/PS4/Stadia/Switch/Xbox One) – Releases Dec. 9th
MXGP 2020 (PC/PS4/PS5/Xbox One/Series X|S) – Releases Dec. 16th
Abyss of the Sacrifice (PC/Switch) – Releases Dec. 17th
Airborne Kingdom (PC – Epic Games Store) – Releases Dec. 17th
Override 2: Super Mech League (PC/PS4/PS5/Switch/Xbox One/Series X|S) – Releases Dec. 22nd
Notable Releases from 10, 20 and 30 (and sometimes 40) years ago:
Back To The Future: The Game Episode 1 (PC) – Released Dec. 2nd, 2010: Wiki Link
By 2010, developer Telltale Games was starting to make a real name for themselves in the point & click adventure genre. With hits like Sam & Max and Tales From Monkey Island under their belt, as well as some nicely received licensed titles from the Wallace & Gromit and Homestar Runner franchises, the team was ready for the challenge of working on some more well known properties, specifically two from Universal Studios. Gaining the rights to both Back To The Future and Jurassic Park, the team decided to go with the adventures of Marty & Doc first, in a time skipping romp that celebrates the BTTF franchise and its characters. Released as 5 individual releases, the first episode finds Marty exploring Doc’s garage in the midst of an estate sale to pay off some hefty back taxes he owes to the city. Insisting that Doc isn’t dead, Marty tries in vain to get people to listen to him, but his father George (who is overseeing the sale for some reason) won’t listen and just assumes Marty misses Doc. Meanwhile, dipshit Biff Tannen is snooping around Doc’s garage too and finds an old notebook full of Doc’s plans for time travel. Marty, through a series of hilarious mishaps, is able to retrieve the notebook and then, just as he heads home, the time machine appears in the driveway with Einstein inside and a tape recorder with Marty’s name on it. Not knowing what to expect, Marty plays the tape recorder, and it contains a message from Doc! Apparently, Doc built a failsafe into the time machine that causes it to (somehow) start driving on its own if Doc doesn’t check in after a certain period of time. This convenient plot device is what leads Marty on a hunt to find Doc, one that involves nosy news reporters, mobsters, a teenage Doc and, of course, the Tannen family.
Announced in June of 2010, the team at Telltale knew they wanted to tell a story that was faithful to the original film trilogy, and to do this they enlisted the help of screenwriter Bob Gale to ensure that everything fit in neatly. Through a series of writing sessions and messages, the team was able to incorporate several elements from BTTF Part 2 that had to be cut out, including a trip to the prohibition era, and an examination of Doc’s extended family and his youth. While Telltale was able to get Christopher Lloyd to reprise the role of Doc, the other actors were not so easy to come by. Crispin Glover and Lea Thompson did not come back for the roles of George and Lorraine, and while initially Thomas F. Wilson did not play the role of Biff, he did eventually return to the role when the game was ported to consoles in 2015. As for Marty, Michael J. Fox was unable to return to the role, with the part going to a young voice actor named A.J. Locascio. According to both Christopher Lloyd and Bob Gale, Locascio’s voice was an almost perfect match to the younger Michael J. Fox, thoroughly impressing both men. Fox eventually voice an older version of Marty in later episodes, and also reprise his role as William McFly. Critics were also impressed, giving the game high marks when it released in December of 2010. While there was criticism lobbed at the game’s seeming lack of difficulty, as well as its fairly stale graphics, they couldn’t help but be impressed with the writing and attention to detail. The game unfolds like another entry in the film series, and stays true to its characters and themes. The remaining episodes would appear throughout the first half of 2011, wrapping up in June, with a complete retail edition arriving in September. While Telltale never went back to Back To The Future, it was yet another title that would lay the groundwork for the studio’s future success, and unfortunate downfall.
Persona 2: Eternal Punishment (PlayStation) – Released Dec. 22nd, 2000: Wiki Link
Despite being a well known and admired franchise in Japan since the late 80’s, American audiences were not introduced to the Megami Tensei series until 1996 when Atlus decided to try and make a splash in the now bourgeoning RPG market in the West. Looking to compete with Final Fantasy and Breath of Fire, Atlus’ U.S. branch quickly localized the latest title in the series, a spin-off called Persona. While not as big a seller as Final Fantasy VII, the first Persona was still a modest success, being seen as more of a cult classic. The positive reception in both Japan and the West was enough for Atlus to greenlight a sequel, but with staffing at their U.S. offices so low, the decision was made to not localize the sequel, but instead localize the sequel to the sequel; what? Persona 2 was released under the subtitle of Innocent Sin, and was a story about a group of teenagers who discover that the world outside of their city was destroyed by the elder god Nyarlathotep, and in a bid to restore everything they give up their memories and are thrust into an “other world” which is where the second part of the game starts, subtitled Eternal Punishment. If you were a Japanese player then this all made sense. You would see characters you already knew, but in a different context, as they try to piece together what happened to to them previously. If you were an American playing Eternal Punishment for the first time then you were, like me, totally lost. The game plays like you are already intimately aware of the characters and events of Innocent Sin, taking very little time to introduce you to them or the world, making it seem as if you’ve stumbled into a story already in progress. Despite this, the game is still very compelling, and if you were a fan of the first Persona it was readily apparent that the localization in this game was leaps and bounds above the localization in the first title.
If you’re a fan of the series and still haven’t played this game, you’ll be surprised to know that many of the elements present in the game are seen here as well. Even having only played Persona 5, I did find myself often going “oh wow, they still do that!” at certain points, while other times being very happy how we’ve progressed over the years. You still visit the Velvet Room and summon personas with Igor, and I was really tickled to see that the song that plays in Persona 5’s Velvet Room is the same one, only in Persona 2 you actually see the piano player and female singer, a neat touch. However, while the summoning system in P5 is fairly straightforward, with players convincing personas to join them in battle, in P2 players must gather tarot cards from specific demons during battle and then trade those in to Igor. Personas function differently as well, with no leveling system in place, but instead a ranking system. While a persona might have a base level of 2, their rank can be increased to 8, at which point they stop learning spells and growing stronger…sort of. In a battle system that is already kind of convoluted, Persona 2 takes it another step further by having not just regular spells, but also fusion spells. Learned through trial and error, fusion spells occur when you perform various elemental spells in a specific order. For example, if you set up your party to perform a water, fire, and earth spell in that order, instead of doing three weak individual spells, you will perform a single strong spell. It is with these fusions that you can actually increase the stats of a persona that has already hit its rank 8 cap, as well as teach them new, rare spells and transformations. That’s just the beginning when it comes to battles, though.
Like Persona 5, players have the choice of using a physical weapon or calling upon their personas to cast a magic spell, however, in Persona 2, physical attacks are nearly pointless. All if your fights are done with persona magic, it’s foolish to do anything else, and if you aren’t doing a fusion spell then you’re playing the game wrong. How do you fight though? Well, I’ll tell you! In a typical JRPG you choose the individual tasks for each party member every round, and the game assigns their order based on a particular skill (speed, agility, etc.). In Persona 2 that shit is thrown out the window. Upon entering a fight you may select “battle”, and your party will, in an order based on agility, use their weapons to fight and will not stop until the monster is dead, or you are. This is the worst way to fight, in my opinion, and is only useful if facing very weak enemies. What you should be doing is setting up your commands every round. To so this you select the “strategy” option, which opens up a whole new window of commands…I know. From here you can change what type of action the character takes, as well as switch up the order they act in, a key element in casting fusion spells. You can also use this to pinpoint specific enemies with spells, i.e. use a fire spell on an enemy weak to that element. Lastly, just like in all other Megami Tensei games, players can talk to the demons in an effort to gain something. In Persona 2 your main goal is to collect tarot cards that you trade in to Igor for new personas, but you can also gain an item, gain cash, or cause them to flee in terror. You won’t gain many levels if this is the only way you play, but it is a viable option in many instances, particularly when you want to summon the latest and greatest persona that your level allows.
Critical reception to the game was, like the first Persona, positive, with particular praise given to the much, much better localization in the West this time around. Critics felt the game was unique and did stuff other RPGs of the era wouldn’t dare, sometimes to its detriment. Finding many of the mechanics in the game confusing, it was noted that the title was likely going to scare off many casual RPG fans, making Persona 2 more of a niche title for the hardcore players out there. The story was also praised, with a techy, cyberpunk aesthetic involving cell phones, demonic television broadcasts, and using the internet to spread rumors. Oh, the rumors! The whole crux of the story is based on rumors, with play having to find and collect as many rumors as possible in order to not only unlock weapon and armor shops, but to also discover rare personas and items, and even change the layout of certain dungeons. The main antagonist is even using these rumors to cause mayhem, and while Persona 5 had you changing people’s hearts by entering their minds, Persona 2 has you fighting people who have been changed by the power of a rumor, and using Igor to extract the evil demon from their hearts. Anyway, at the end of the day I found myself engrossed with Persona 2: Eternal Punishment, spending almost 30 hours with it over the course of the past weekend, using a GameFAQs walkthrough to guide me through it. If you’re looking to play it, aside from finding a very expensive physical disc, the game is on the PS3 as a digital download. A PSP remake came out in Japan but we never got it, however we did get Innocent Sin’s PSP remake, so we at least have the full story now.
StarTropics (NES) – Released Dec. 1990: Wiki Link
Commander Keen in Invasion of the Vorticons: Episode 1: Marooned on Mars (PC) – Released Dec. 14th, 1990: Wiki Link
I’m not sure what it is about the holidays and releasing bit RPGs. Maybe it’s seen as a flashy Christmas gift, or maybe it’s the idea that kids are going to be home from school for a couple weeks so this will give them something to do. Whatever the case, this month, over the last 40 years we are looking at, has produced at least one major RPG. In 1990 it came from Nintendo in the form of StarTropics. A hybrid title, combining elements of Zelda, Blaster Master, and Dragon Warrior, player take on the role of Mike, a young man who is searching for his uncle, a scientist named Dr. Jones. With no Japanese release, the game is unabashedly American, but through the filter of a Japanese team. Featuring many references to Western culture, the game is almost a parody of Americans and Europeans, in the same sense that the Mother/Earthbound series is. Perhaps the thing that makes StarTropics so memorable was the inclusion of a physical letter in every retail copy of the game and its use as a clue to progress in the game. At a certain point in the game, players are told to retrieve their letter from Dr. Jones and place it into a bowl of water. When wet, special ink on the letter is activated and a code the player needs to move forward is revealed. Later digital releases on the Wii and Wii U simulated this by showing a picture of the letter in the game’s on screen instruction manual, however the Switch version has nothing like this, meaning that players will have to go online to find a solution. StarTropics received positive reviews when it was released, but it was likely overshadowed by the hype surrounding the upcoming release of the Super Nintendo. As for its future, a sequel was released on the NES in 1994, three years into the life of the SNES, making it fairly forgettable, and bringing the entire series to a stop.
While the NES and other home consoles had perfected the art of side scrolling, there was something about it that the PC couldn’t quite match. Most PC titles took place on a series of screens that only simulated side scrolling, but no one was able to get it to work, that is until a group of plucky young programmers named John Romero, John Carmack, and Tom Hall, figured it out in a dark office. In September of 1990, while working at a game company called Softdisk, Romero, Carmack and Hall started batting around the idea of doing smooth scrolling on a PC, a feat that had never been done. Reading through a EGA technical manual, the trio began to think that side scrolling was possible if coded correctly. Taking inspiration from a copy of Super Mario Bros. 3 in the NES they had in their office, Romero challenged Carmack and Hall to recreate level 1-1 on the PC. With Carmack writing the code and Hall creating the sprite graphics, the two men did an all night programming session, finishing it up and placing the floppy on Romero’s desk with the title Dangerous Dave In Copyright Infringement. When Carmack and Hall returned to work, late, the next day they saw their office door closed. Peeking in they saw Romero hunched over the monitor and telling them to quickly come in and shut the door. Telling the two men that not only did their side scrolling work flawlessly, he had spent all morning playing the level over and over again. He knew they had a hit on their hands, and he was ready to start his own company.
With their new technological marvel in hand, Romero, Carmack, and Hall created their brand new company and called it Ideas From The Deep (later to be shorted to ‘id’). Knowing that Softdisk had no interest in developing a game that wouldn’t work in CGA graphics, the three programmers had to find someone else to publish their new side scrolling game. Thinking that they might as well reach out to the company that inspired them, they met with Nintendo and showed them a spruced up demo version of SMB 3 running on a PC. Nintendo was intrigued and very impressed with what they made, but ultimately passed on the project, not wanting to put their software on the PC. In the midst of wondering where to go next, Romero had been receiving a ton of fan mail from different people about a game he made at Softdisk, however it would turn out that all the mail was coming from one guy, the founder of Apogee Software, Scott Miller. Initially upset, Romero sent Miller a nasty reply, thinking that he was being made fun of. Miller said it was the opposite, he really was a fan but couldn’t send letters with his name on them to Romero when he worked at Softdisk, fearing the management there would throw them out. Miller wanted Romero to create a sequel to a game called Pyramids of Egypt, but with those rights still in the hands of Softdisk, Romero told him that he had something even better.
With a $2,000 advance from Apogee, Ideas From the Deep began full production on this new game…while also working their day jobs at Softdisk. Yes, Romero, Carmack and Hall were still employees at Softdisk during the creation of their new game, working on menial games during the day and their new project at night. They would even take their work computers over to Carmack’s home during the weekend and then return them to the office on Monday morning before anyone else came in. When coming up with an idea for the game, Romero knew he wanted to do something in the science fiction genre. Carmack suggested a child genius as a protagonist, and with that Romero was off writing the story of Billy Blaze, AKA Commander Keen. Drawing inspiration from his childhood, Hall dressed up Keen in an outfit he often wore when playing make believe, a Green Bay Packers football helmet, blue jeans, a t-shirt, and red Converse. For the backgrounds and enemies, Hall was similarly inspired by the cartoons he watched as a kid, particularly the Duck Dodgers shorts from Looney Tunes. Upon receiving regular updtes from the IDF team, Miller was getting increasingly excited about Commander Keen, talking it up on BBSs and buying ads in various video game magazines. When the three man team finished the game in December of 1990 it was promptly uploaded as shareware to the same BBSs that Miller had been hanging out at…and it was a hit.
For those who might be unfamiliar with the concept, many PC games in the 80’s and 90’s operated on the shareware system. Games would typically be developed in multiple episodes, typically three, with consumers receiving the first episode for free with the option to buy the remaining episodes through the mail. Apogee thrived on this model, earning about $7,000 a month per game, but when Commander Keen hit they suddenly found themselves looking at over $30,000 in orders. Miller called it an atomic bomb, indie games just weren’t getting this kind of money. With players and critics absolutely blown away by the technology they were witnessing, Apogee and Ideas From The Deep were suddenly flush with cash, and by June of 1991 Commander Keen was pulling in over $60k a month. Before Romero, Carmack and Hall could celebrate there was just one thing they had to do; quit their jobs at Softdisk. After a lengthy negotiation process, Ideas From The Deep were able to retain the rights to the IP made on Softdisk computers if the team agreed to make a series of games for them, every two months. Agreeing to the terms, the three developers left Softdisk for good and changed the name of their company to id Software. At their new company, Romero, Carmack and Hall would continue to push the limits of PC gaming and in just a couple years they would revolutionize the industry again with the invention of a new genre, the first person shooter.
Zork I (PC) – Released Dec. 1980: Wiki Link
Having just discussed graphical breakthroughs on the PC in 1990, it seems a bit odd to switch gears and talk about Zork I, a game famously known for having no graphics at all. Created by four developers, Tim Anderson, Marc Blank, Dave Lebling, and Bruce Daniels, Zork I was a text based adventure game in which players would type commands into a prompt in order to advance the story. Taking inspiration from Dungeons & Dragons, the team set their game in the fantasy world of the Great Underground Empire, or GUE, with the game taking place in the Zork calendar year of 948. With very little guidance, players are left on their own to explore vast underground caverns, full of monsters, traps, and treasure. The ultimate goal of Zork I is to collect twenty treasures and bring them back to a trophy case in a small house that the game starts in. Once completed the players are sent to a new location and told to start their new adventure in Zork II. Reception to the game was, like Commander Keen ten years later, like an atomic bomb. PC stores across America were touting Zork I as a technological marvel that proved the processing power of the home computer. Zork I was soon selling thousands of copies a month, becoming the number one selling PC game of the year in 1982, and by 1983 had sold nearly 100,000 copies. The success of Zork I allowed the team to continue making games, starting the company Infocom. They would go on to create several more Zork titles, but the success was short lived. Seeing more revenue coming from their business software division, and the changing marketplace in PC gaming, Infocom would eventually sell to Activision in the late 80’s before being officially shuttered in 1991. Zork I is still available today through Steam and will run on most modern PCs. I was very surprised at how engrossing the game was, finding myself sucked into this and losing about an hour of my time as I explored the labyrinth of the GUE. Sometimes small things make the biggest impact, and the legacy of Zork I and its pioneering ideas on adventure games and RPGs cannot be understated.
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