Oh boy, there are A LOT of video games this week so there’s no time to mess around. Here we go.
Atelier Ryza 2: Lost Legends & The Secret Fairy (PC/PS4/PS5/Switch) – Releases Jan. 26th
The gang from Atelier Ryza is back for more adventures! Set three years after the events of the first game, Ryza, Lent, Tao, Klaudia, and the rest of them, have reunited to explore mystical ruins and delve deep into foreboding dungeons. While the core gameplay doesn’t appear to have changed much, the game does seem to have a more open world feel, with Ryza now able to climb, jump, and swim, opening up new possibilities to find unique ingredients to craft the perfect item. Along the way, Ryza and her friends come in contact with a race of small creatures called Fi. Just what are these creatures and what is their connection to the “lost legends”? Find out on January 26th.
Cyber Shadow (PC/PS4/PS5/Switch/Xbox One) – Releases Jan. 26th
Renowned indie developer Yacht Club games has spent the last six years focusing on their very popular series of Shovel Knight games, heavily inspired by 8-bit NES platformers, and it looks like they are now getting into publishing. With their latest title, Cyber Shadow, the team at Mechanical Head Studios is continuing Yacht Club’s tradition of 8-bit NES inspired platformers, but this time they’ve gone down a more Ninja Gaiden-esque path with the game, instantly reminding me of another recent retro-inspired title, The Messenger. This is the kind of game I live for and, while I won’t say I’m a master at them, I can happily bang my head against the wall on these games for hours and hours on the same level and still get enjoyment out them. I know it’s early in the year, but I think we might be looking at one of the best games of 2021.
Disjunction (PC/PS4/Switch/Xbox One) – Releases Jan. 28th
I’m sure when all of these game companies came up with the idea to release their cyberpunk inspired games they would be riding a wave of overwhelmingly positive sentiment towards the genre with the release of CD Projekt Red’s Cyberpunk 2077. Instead they are coming out to a public that overwhelmingly hates the game and are instead looking like much, MUCH, better alternatives. Disjunction looks like a fantastic game, mixing elements of Metal Gear and Hotline Miami to hopefully create something that is as much fun to play as it is to look at.
The Medium (PC/Series X|S) – Releases Jan. 28th
From Polish developer Bloober Team, best known for Layers of Fear and Blair Witch, comes a new entry in the survival horror genre, The Medium. Heavily inspired by the Silent Hill series, including having Akira Yamaoka co-write the score, The Medium centers on a young woman named Marianne who is, of course, a medium. Using special abilities, Marianne is able to exist in both the real world and the spirit world, meaning that as you play the game you will be shown a split screen with Marianne in both locations at the same time. With the ability to freely swap between each location, you will have to solve puzzles and defeat monsters as you juggle which realm you exist in. Some of you might wonder what happened to Microsoft’s promise that all Series X games would release on the Xbox One. Well, because of The Medium’s unique world swap mechanic, a fast speed, solid state hard drive is required, and since the ol’ XBone is still rocking the mechanical spinning drive, The Medium is impossible to play on that machine. Could this be the Series X’s first “must have” title?
The Pedestrian (PC/PS4/PS5) – Releases Jan. 29th
This quirky puzzle game looks like an absolute blast and I can’t wait to play it.
Re:Zero – Starting Life in Another World: The Prophecy of the Throne (PC/PS4/Switch) – Releases Jan. 29th
Lots of anime stuff happens to these anime characters in a world that is, like, so anime.
Ports and Re-releases:
The Yakuza Remastered Collection (PC/Xbox One) – Releases Jan. 28th
Long a PlayStation exclusive, the Yakuza series has steadily been finding its way to both PC and Xbox One. Now with the release of the Yakuza Remastered Collection, Xbone and PC loyalists are going to be able to play the entire main series. As an added bonus, anyone who subscribes to Game Pass will get access to all three games; Yakuza 3, 4 and 5.
Dead Cells: Fatal Falls (PC/PS4/Switch/Xbox One) – Releases Jan. 26th
From Steam; “Gain a sharp and somewhat overprotective aerial ally as you fight through two new biomes and a boss! Challenging level designs will force you to rethink your approach in this new mid game content designed to add variety to your runs and continue support for the development of the game“.
The Sims 4: Paranormal Stuff Pack (PC/PS4/Xbox One) – Releases Jan. 28th
From Steam; “Light the candles and prepare the rituals to appease your ghastly new roommates in The Sims 4 Paranormal Stuff Pack! Spectral guests cause mischief and mayhem on Haunted House Lots, but Sims can perform a séance, befriend Guidry the Ghost, become a Paranormal Investigator, and restore order“.
- Encodya (PC) – Releases Jan. 26th
- Citizens Unite!: Earth x Space (PC/PS4/Switch) – Releases Jan. 28th
- Marchen Forest: Mylne and the Forest Gift (PC/PS4/Switch) – Releases Jan. 28th
- Olija (PC/PS4/Switch/Xbox One) – Releases Jan. 28th
- Sword of the Necromancer (PC/PS4/Switch/Xbox One) – Releases Jan. 28th
- TOHU (PC/PS4/Stadia/Switch/Xbox One) – Releases Jan. 28th
- Bonkies (PC/PS4/Switch/Xbox One) – Releases Jan. 29th
- Chill Panda (Switch) – Releases Jan. 29th
- Gods Will Fall (PC/PS4/Switch/Xbox One) – Releases Jan. 29th
- Another Dawn (PC/Xbox One/Series X|S) – Releases Jan. 31st
Notable Releases from 10, 20 and 30 years ago:
Magicka (PC) – Released Dec. Jan. 25th, 2011: Wiki Link
Swedish developer Arrowhead Game Studio’s Magicka was so good that it won game of the year before it even came out. When the studio was founded in 2008, it demoed an early build of the game to various people in Sweden, who in turn were so impressed by what they saw that it was crowned GOTY at the 2008 Swedish Game Awards. This positive buzz prompted publisher Paradox Interactive to strike a deal with the new studio, increasing the game’s presence across the globe, setting the tongues PC players wagging. When the game finally released in January of 2011, it was very well received by players and critics alike, but it was almost unplayable due to bugs and crashes. With Arrowhead being a small indie company, it was difficult for the studio to QA and optimize, and as someone who had a lot of trouble playing the game on a, at the time, fairly decent laptop, I can attest that it was hard to enjoy the title. However, those that could get past the bugs (or just wait for it to work properly) were blessed with a deep, engaging dungeon crawler that was as funny as it was challenging. For those unfamiliar, Magicka has players taking on the role of a young wizard as they embark on a quest to save the world from an evil sorcerer. While you could play the title alone, the real joy came from playing the game with friends. Since it was comedic, there was a lot of fun to be had killing your friends “by accident”, and because of the fairly high level of difficulty, it was usually a much better experience in multiplayer. However, the major gameplay mechanic of Magicka is combining your spells to create more powerful versions of them. For example, if you cast fire you’ll only spray it out in front of you a few inches (or set yourself on fire), but if you combine fire and earth, you’ll create a fireball projectile. While the game does give you the combinations for multiple spells, experimental players are rewarded for finding secret combination that can unleash devastating amount of damage to your foes…or your friends…or yourself. By the end of 2012, Magicka and its multiple expansions had sold over 1 million copies, making it the most profitable game in Paradox’s history. It’s no wonder, then, that they wanted a sequel, and they got one…from a different studio. Yeah, so when it came time for a sequel, Arrowhead has busy in development on a couple other titles, so Paradox reached out Pieces Interactive who had worked on several of Magicka’s DLC packs to make the 2015 sequel. A mobile version of Magicka called Wizards of the Square Tablet also came out, but after a lukewarm reception to Magicka 2 there hasn’t been much talk of the series in recent years. I’m not sure how long this link will be active, but the team over at Arrowhead did a livestream of themselves playing Magicka for its ten year anniversary, giving commentary on the game and telling stories about its development; give it a look: https://www.twitch.tv/arrowheadgs
Phantasy Star Online (Dreamcast) – Released Jan. 29th, 2001: Wiki Link
Online gaming is about as important to a modern console as a power button, but it wasn’t always that way. Despite some experiments in the mid 90’s with the X-Band on Super Nintendo and Genesis, if you wanted to play games online in any real, competitive fashion you had to have a high end PC. Back in the day, video game companies viewed the PC and console markets very differently than they do now, and the idea that a console player would want to play games over the internet was not on the minds of most publishers. However, seeing the popularity of the genre explode on PC, Sega chairman Isao Okawa was confident that online gaming was the future of consoles as well and wanted the Dreamcast to be capable of playing games over the internet. The problem was that most of the internal teams had no desire to work on an online game, prompting Okawa to basically pick someone, with the “honor” going to Yuji Naka and Team Sonic. Less than thrilled to be taking on such a project, Naka and his team begrudgingly agreed and started up pre-production once they wrapped up Sonic Adventure. While online gaming was exploding in the West, Japan gamers were not embracing it in the same way, so Naka and his team ended up engrossing themselves in three of the biggest games in the U.S.; EverQuest, Ultima Online, and Diablo II. Naka was impressed with all three titles, but Diablo II was by far the most impressive out of the bunch. Knowing that it would be very hard to create a massive, persistent world on consoles, Diablo II’s smaller scale and focus on party based gameplay was an easier style to emulate on the less powerful Dreamcast. Now they just needed a setting.
During pre-production the team started drafting up concept art for a fantasy game that they tentatively called Third World. One of the artists, Satoshi Sakai, was in the habit of drawing dragons, and as Naka reviewed the art he found himself reminded of a old Sega property, Phantasy Star. The last game in the series, part IV, had released in 1993 (1995 in the US), and with the majority of the team that made the game no longer working at Sega, it was a perfect candidate for a reboot. The story in Phantasy Star Online would not follow the existing saga told in the original series, freeing the team to do whatever they wanted. Still, online gaming on consoles was not a sure thing, nor did the team really know if the Dreamcast could full handle it. To test things out, Team Sonic put together the simple puzzle game Chu Chu Rocket and released it in November of 1999 in Japan (March 2000 in the U.S.). This was the Dreamcast’s first online game, and it was the perfect title for Team Sonic to cut its teeth on and learn the ins and outs of online console gaming. With its low stakes graphics, yet deceptively powerful programming, Chu Chu Rocket was a hit with Dreamcast owners, and guess what, they fully embraced the online portion. Emboldened by this, Team Sonic drove headfirst into the completion of Phantasy Star Online, finally releasing the game in Japan on December 21st, 2000. With over 500,000 copies sold in Japan, PSO was a big hit, and when it finally hit the U.S., it pushed the sales to over 1 million units sold. Unfortunately for Dreamcast fans, the console was on its last legs and would cease sales in March of 2000. An updated version would arrive in September 2001, but the servers would shut down in 2003 for the U.S. (Japan would stay up until 2007). After the demise of the Dreamcast, versions of the game would appear on the GameCube and Xbox with those server shutting down in 2007. A dedicated group of player have been able to hack the consoles and keep private servers going, but Phantasy Star Online is a dead game, having been replaced by the Free-To-Play Phantasy Star Online 2. There is a whole generation of gamers that grew up with PSO, making long lasting friendships and helped usher in a complete revolution in console gaming.
Sword of Vermilion (Genesis) – Released Jan. 28th, 1991: Wiki Link
Legendary game designer Yu Suzuki was best known for arcade action titles in 1991, but he took his first step not just into the RPG genre, but also consoles, with the title Sword of Vermilion. Every time a 30 year old RPG comes up in this column I talk about how the genre was still in it’s early days of popularity, and while they still weren’t reaching the sales levels of the common garden variety side scroller, they did pretty good. Plus, their large size and breadth of stats made them seem like they were technological marvels. Sega led hard into this when the promoted the game in the U.S., putting Sword of Vermilion front and center in its “Genesis Does What Nintendon’t” ad campaign. Having Suzuki in charge of the game led to some interesting gameplay design, as Sword of Vermilion didn’t stick to one type of camera angle. While in town the player would be shown an Phantasy Star style overhead view, while out in the field/in dungeons players would be shown a Wizardry style first person view, and finally, during battles the camera would switch to semi-overhead view similar to The Legend of Zelda. It was these battles where the game would deviate even further from the traditional RPG, with players doing combat in a real time fashion like a typical action game, instead of the turn based combat most players were used to. While the title is ambition in its scope, it doesn’t really work. The combat is sluggish and repetitive, and the entire game is just too slow and boring to really capture your imagination. Even if Sword of Vermilion is “bigger” than Final Fantasy and Dragon Warrior on the NES, it doesn’t hold a candle to those two titles. Suzuki would move back into the arcade action genre after this, and eventually the fighting genre with Virtua Fighter, only returning to the RPG genre in 2000 with Shenmue, which also subverted tradition RPG norms. You can find Sword of Vermilion on PC through Steam, and is also on the Sega Genesis Classics collection for PS4, Switch, and Xbox One.
The wind sure was blowin’ up a gale today…
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