Things are much quieter in the first week of February than they were in the last week of January, and I’m a-ok with that! I still don’t think we’ve had a major, AAA title that you need to run out and pick up just yet, but if you were going to start with something this year then why not grab the new Ys?
Ys IX: Monstrum Nox (PS4) – Releases Feb. 2nd (PC and Switch later this year)
If this was the 80s/90s, kids on the schoolyard might say that last week’s Atelier Ryza was the “girl” RPG and this week’s Ys IX is the “boy” RPG; savages. Moving on, series protagonist Adol Christin and his pal Dogi arrive in the city of Balduq, only to be immediately imprisoned by its rulers, the Romun Empire. While imprisoned, Adol meets a mysterious woman who uses magic to turn Adol into a “Monstrum”, granting him supernatural powers that allow him to see creatures from the Grimwald Nox. Together with a group of other Monstrums, Adol and his companions set out on a massive quest to banish these evil creatures, and in the process will uncover a vast conspiracy within the city of Balduq. Developer Nihon Falcom have built upon the gameplay changes they made in Ys VIII, adding in new ways to traverse the world map, while also bringing in gameplay elements from previous games, notably the “Boost Mode” last seen in Ys Origin. Critical consensus for the Japanese release has been very positive, with famed magazine Famitsu giving the game a score of 35 out of 40. If you’ve been on the fence about the Ys games in the past I think now is the time to jump on in, it’s well worth your time.
Destruction AllStars (PS5) – Releases Feb. 2nd
What happens when you combine Rocket League with Overwatch? You get Destruction AllStars. Originally poised to be a launch title for the PS5 back in November, the game was delayed three months, but it’s all good, because now it’ll be free to PlayStation Plus subscribers for the first two months of release, and hey, even if you don’t have a PS5 you can still claim the game to your library from the PlayStation website. While I had initially written Destruction AllStars off because of its tone, I was pleasantly surprised to see that the game’s project leads had a hand in the creation of the Wipeout series, giving this title a bit more of a pedigree. Might be fun.
Habroxia 2 (PC/PS4/PS Vita/Switch/Xbox One) – Releases Feb. 3rd
I’m a SHMUP stan, deal with it.
Blue Fire (PC/Switch) – Releases Feb. 4th
While this title looks fairly generic in tone and gameplay, the 3D platformer is a video game mainstay, the equivalent to mom’s meatloaf. Not always the best, but you know exactly what you’re going to get. You can probably wait for a sale if you’re looking to pick this up.
Kowloon High-School Chronicle (Switch) – Releases Feb. 4th
Kowloon High-School Chronicle, originally a PS2 Japan exclusive released in 2004, is a first person dungeon crawler about treasure hunting high school students. In this HD remaster, players will embark on a journey beneath their school as they seek out ancient artifacts that point to the identity of a long lost civilization. Along the way they’ll have to contend with traps, monsters, and rival treasure hunters, all while learning that the greatest treasure was the friendships they all made along the way 🙂
NUTS (PC/Switch) – Releases Feb 4th (Already out on Apple Arcade)
I hated Firewatch, and NUTS looks like a vaporwave version of Firewatch, so I think I’ll probably hate NUTS, but maybe I won’t?
Werewolf: The Apocalypse – Earthblood (PC/PS4/PS5/Xbox One/Series X|S) – Releases Feb 4th
Most other gaming outlets have pegged Werewolf: The Apocalypse – Earthblood as the top game of the week; pfft, whatever. Based on the tabletop RPG of the same name, players take on the role of Cahal, an eco-terrorist/werewolf who has been banished from his clan for reasons. Determined to end pollution once and for all, Cahal embarks on bloodthirsty quest across the Pacific Northwest, disrupting the supply chain of mega corporation Pentex, leaving behind a trail of blood and guts. Actually, this game sounds pretty cool…but I bet it plays like shit.
Ports and Re-releases:
Control: Ultimate Edition (PS5/Series X|S) – Releases Feb. 2nd
The bad news, if you own Control on PS4/XBone then you can’t get the PS5/SX|S version as a free upgrade; the good news, Control is free for PS+ subscribers and is also on Game Pass. PLAY THIS GAME.
Nioh Collection/Nioh 2 Complete Edition (PC/PS5) – Releases Feb. 2nd
Even more PS4 to PS5 upgrades this week! The Nioh games fly a bit under the radar, particularly when compared to the much more popular Soulsbourne series, but I would highly recommend checking them out. While these remasters are only coming to PS5, the Nioh 2 Complete Edition is hitting the PC, giving even more people exposure to this wonderful series.
Notable Releases from 10, 20 and 30 (and sometimes 40) years ago:
It’s an all Nintendo week of notable titles, with one of their most successful games, as well as one of their least successful; read on…
Mario Sports Mix (Wii) – Released Feb 7th, 2011: Wiki Link
By 2011, the Nintendo/Mario series had been going strong since the early days of the NES with titles like Tennis and Golf, and really started to pick up steam with the release of Mario Golf on the N64 in the 90’s. When Mario Sports Mix came out, former Nintendo president Reggie Fils-Aimé had touted the new title as featuring four sports that had never been featured in the Mario Sports series, but that wasn’t the case, technically. While it is true that the Mario characters had never been featured playing dodgeball before, they had played basketball, volleyball, and hockey in various mini-game forms over the years, including a just recently released 3DS game called Mario Hoops: 3-On-3. Minor fib aside, this was still the first time we’d get Mario and his pals playing a more robust version of these four sports, a win for comical sports fans. However, while it was neat to see Mario and Bowser push each other around in hockey, the lack of depth in any of the individual sports made the game feel incomplete and generic. Now when I say “unfinished” I don’t mean that the game is broken, it’s actually very well made, with tight controls that include some of the most response Wii motion controls I’ve ever seen, and perhaps some of the best graphics on the console as well (it’s gorgeous to look at). What makes it unfinished/incomplete is that there’s not a whole lot to bite into, so to speak. Each sport could almost be a demo for a larger game with more features, and the small teams (3v3) give each one a feeling that you’re not playing a “real” contest, but instead a stripped down version. It also doesn’t help things that there are absolutely no penalties, i.e., you can go out of bounds, you can goal tend, and you can get super physical. In fact, the only game that seems have any real set of rules appears to be dodgeball, and it also feels like the most thought out/put together game in the bunch. Despite the shortcomings, the game can still provide a fun afternoon of playing, as I found out when I played through each sport with my wife and daughter. We were laughing and shouting the whole time, so it did its job, but once we got through each sport my wife and I were pretty much done with it, however my kid could have played for hours if we didn’t take the controller away from her. Last note, since the game was developed by Square Enix, you actually have the chance to unlock characters from both Final Fantasy and Dragon Quest, with the generic Ninja, White Mage, and Black Mage, along with a moogle, cactaur, and blue slime all making appearances (along with Behemoth as the final boss). In the end I fully agreed with the critics, it’s a cute little diversion but, overall, Mario Sports Mix lacks any real depth and you’ll see all it has to offer in a single gameplay session.
Paper Mario (N64) – Released Feb. 5th, 2001: Wiki Link
One of the most beloved SNES games was Squaresoft’s classic 1996 title Super Mario RPG. Taking everyone’s favorite plumber out of the platforming realm and into the adventure/RPG genre was a bold move at the time, and players rewarded Nintendo handsomely for their experiment. Looking to continue their fruitful partnership, Nintendo asked Squaresoft to come up with a sequel for the N64, but with their new found love affair with the PlayStation, Square declined to take on the project, instead focusing on making their seminal RPG Final Fantasy VII. Not content to let the game (known at the time as Super Mario RPG 2) languish, Nintendo reached out to the team at Intelligent Design who were best known in Japan for creating Nintendo’s Fire Emblem series. With a planned release on the 64DD before being moved to the N64, Intelligent Design began pre-production on the game, taking gameplay ideas from Super Mario RPG, but going in a totally different direction for the art style. Inspired by the thin, cel animation quality of the characters in Parappa The Rapper, art director Naohiko Aoyama decided to make all of the characters in the game look like paper cutouts, an idea that really had no other basis except for the fact that it might look cool. With this new art style it was decided to change the name to Paper Mario. While the game retained the RPG/platforming element from its SNES predecessor, the party size went from three to two, however you have the ability to switch out your party member at anytime. With Paper Mario broken up into six chapters, you will typically pick up a new party member in each one, and it is through their unique abilities that you are generally able to progress to a new area; examples include Bombette who can blow up rocks, and Parakarry who can fly short distances while holding Mario. These unique abilities are what drive most of the puzzles you must solve in the game, and occasionally you will come across enemy types that can only be hit by a particular character’s ability (i.e., they’re attached to the ceiling or they have impenetrable armor). As is typical for RPGs, Mario has hit points, as well as two other stats, FP (flower points) which are used to perform special attacks, and BP (badge points) which are used to determine how many badges Mario can equip. Oh, what are badges? Well, these are items you will discover in the game world (or sometimes purchase) that grant various bonuses to Mario, which can range from additional special moves to increasing the amount of HP/FP you have. After a Summer release in Japan in the year 2000, the game finally hit North America in February 2001, and was a smash hit.
The promise of a follow up to Super Mario RPG had fans salivating, not only because of how beloved the game was, but also because of a major lack of RPGs on the N64 (mostly due to developers moving to the PlayStation). When the game finally hit North America it was met with overwhelming praise from both critics and players alike, well, mostly. Some critics were put off by how “easy” the game was, as well as its “kid friendly” paper-esque graphics. Despite the detractors, Paper Mario would become a best seller, and hold the sixth-highest score on Metacritic for any N64 game, as well as the highest Metacritic score for N64 games released in the year 2001. Critics noted that although the game was for an “old” system, it was still worth player’s time, particularly as a way to tide them over until the GameCube’s arrival in the fall. As for how it stacked up to the competition, it was second only to Final Fantasy X when it came to most gaming outlet’s year end lists for best RPG; not too bad. In subsequent years the game’s reputation has remained impeccable, appearing on various “Greatest Game of All Time” lists, and launching a series that has seen five more releases over the years, including the most recent title, 2020’s Paper Mario: The Origami King. While the game was re-released on the Wii and Wii U’s Virtual Console service, there is currently no Switch version, meaning that unless you still have your original cart, or a Wii U, there’s not really an easy way to play Paper Mario at the time I am writing this. Will that change? Only Nintendo knows; maybe we should write them a letter.
Radar Mission (Game Boy) – Released Feb. 1991: Wiki Link
You know, not every Nintendo game can be a stone cold classic, as we’re about to find out with these next two titles. Bearing a striking similarity to the classic game Battleship, Nintendo’s Radar Mission has players taking on the role of a Naval officer as they try and sink their opponents, well, battleships. However, in true Nintendo fashion, the game features a slew of additional gameplay mechanics to spice things up. In Game-A, after players destroy two fleets of ships, they are tasked with destroying an enemy base as they look for a runway and tanks. Halfway through the game, if either player’s aircraft carriers are still afloat, it will launch a jet that must also be shot down in order to advance to the next level. However, Game-B is where Radar Mission really deviates from Battleship, with players controlling their submarine in real time as they try and sink the other players fleet of ships by using a radar map that they can toggle on and off. Critics weren’t overly impressed with the title, with Famitsu giving it a score of 25 out of 40, but it did receive high marks from multiple European gaming outlets, go figure. Despite the poor reception, Nintendo did re-release the game on the 3DS’ Virtual Console service, but for the few fans it had in 1991, they would never see a follow up title, but that didn’t mean Nintendo was done with submarine games on handheld devices, releasing Steel Diver as a launch title for the 3DS in 2011 (we’ll talk more about that later). While it isn’t at all connected to Radar Mission, I’d like to pretend it’s Nintendo’s way of trying to hit re-do on the submarine warfare genre; maybe. Speaking of games that need a re-do, get a load of our notable title from 40 years ago…
Radar Scope (Arcade) – Released Jan. 1981: Wiki Link
It’s hard to imagine, but in the late 70’s/early 80’s, Nintendo was not a household name in the Untied States. In 1981 the industry was led by companies like Atari, Midway, Taito, and Namco, just to name a few. Meanwhile, Nintendo was still trying to break into video games, having been primarily a manufacturer of Hanafuda playing cards for several years, before breaking into the toy industry in the late 60’s/early 70’s. Having seen their profits dwindle after the price of oil (and by extension, plastic) skyrocketed in the 1970’s, Nintendo pivoted to video games, first releasing two light gun games for arcades, Wild Gunman and Laser Clay Shooting System (say that five times fast), followed by a series of home gaming devices called Color TV-Game (featuring some of Shigeru Miyamoto’s earliest work at the company). However, they still wanted to make a big splash in the arcades, and with the release of EVR Racer in 1975, Nintendo showed early signs of their commitment to having people play games together, with up to six players placing bets on a virtual horse race. They followed this up with the titles Sheriff and Space Fever in 1979, as well as a 1980 Japan-only games called Heli Fire, but all four failed to make a big splash on the video game industry. It was a do or die moment for Nintendo, they needed a big hit in America, and they had it…sort of.
The release of Taito’s Space Invaders in 1978 was such a massive success that just about every video game company made a clone, including Nintendo. Heck, Radar Scope wasn’t even Nintendo’s first attempt to clone the game, that honor belongs to 1979’s Space Fever. However, while Space Fever was a near copy of Taito’s smash hit, Radar Scope tried to do things a little differently by adding in elements seen in the Namco game Galaxian. As is typical for most Space Invaders clones, Radar Mission features the players controlling a craft of some sort that can shoot vertically to hit enemies fixed at the top of the screen. Radar Scope then took it a couple steps further by having individual enemies fly downwards, toward the player, firing their own projectiles, before returning to the top of the screen. The other major difference was some simple forced perspective by drawing lines on the screen, giving the playfield an added level of depth. With successful play testing in a controlled soft launch, Nintendo was confident they’d have a hit on their hands, manufacturing 3,000 units to make up the very title in their just created Nintendo of America, there was a big problem though, nobody wanted it.
Something unexpected happened between the development of Radar Scope and it’s North American launch; a game called Pac-Man came out. Suddenly people weren’t keen on Space Invaders clones anymore, they wanted games with bright colors and characters they could identify with. The non-descript spaceship was boring now, so it didn’t help that Radar Scope was full of them; way, WAY, too many in fact, with even Miyamoto stating that the game was incredibly banal, with each level being a chore to play due to how many ships you had to shoot down. With only 1,000 of their 3,000 units sold, Nintendo of America was looking like it was going to shut down before it even began, and with Nintendo still licking its wounds after the oil crisis, the entire company’s future was now looking grim. Minoru Arakawa, founder and president of Nintendo of America, begged Nintendo’s CEO (as well as his father in-law), Hiroshi Yamauchi, to develop a new game that could replace all of the Radar Scope cabinets he was sitting on. After polling multiple staffers at Nintendo, Yamauchi took a chance on one of their young artists, Shigeru Miyamoto, and his idea, a title that would go on to be called Donkey Kong, which would propel Nintendo into the stratosphere (more on that in July…). It’s easy to overlook Radar Scope in the history of video games, it’s but a mere footnote, but it does have it’s boosters. Some modern critics have retroactively praised the title for its music and sound effects, created by legendary composer Hirokazu Tanaka. Modern critics also praised Nintendo’s efforts to create a “3D” effect in Radar Scope’s playfield, noting that it was actually copied in two later games, Konami’s Juno First and Activision’s Beam Rider. Still, despite its few positive marks, Radar Scope is an abysmally boring game that wears out its welcome just a few minutes after popping in that first quarter, and I don’t blame Nintendo for quietly keeping it out of sight for the last 40 years. Yet here we are, 40 years later, talking about it, showing that even Nintendo’s greatest failures still contain fascinating stories.
Thanks again for stopping by to read this, it means a lot. Hey, you know what, I really liked that Kowloon High-School Chronicle opening , I think I’ll post it again…
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