This is one heck of a great week for new games if you’re a fan of Japanese developed titles. Plus, we also have a new entry in the rouge-lite genre that has been bolstered by 2020’s surprise hit Hades, and Nintendo continues to give players a reason to turn on Animal Crossing. Let’s go…
Persona 5 Strikers (PC/PS4/Switch) – Releases Feb. 23rd
As a fan of the Persona series, it has been really cool to see a lot of these spin-offs make it to North America, and this latest one is from a genre that I absolutely love. For those unfamiliar, Persona 5 Strikers is a musou game, made famous by Omega Force’s Dynasty Warriors franchise, which has also spawned multiple other franchises, including Samurai Warriors, Dragon Quest Heroes, and Hyrule Warriors. In these games, players hack and slash their way through hordes of enemies as they try to accomplish various tasks. Sometimes you need to control various areas of the map, sometimes you need to protect an NPC, and other times you need to defeat a slew of mini-bosses before finally battling a big end boss. The formula is mostly the same between each of these games, which can make them feel derivative, but there is an almost Zen like quality to these titles, as you mindlessly tear through enemy units like tissue paper. While I don’t expect Strikers to be radically different from the other games in the musou genre, there is a greater emphasis on story here than you might find in some of the previous Omega Force games. Reviews of the Japanese version have been overwhelmingly positive, and I expect many Western gaming critics to feel the same way.
Curse of the Dead Gods (PC/PS4/Switch/Xbox One) – Releases Feb. 23rd
While Hades did not create the rogue-lite genre played in an isometric view point, it certainly helped make it popular. When a game like Hades comes out and makes a big splash in the mainstream, you can always bet on other titles releasing that want to copy its success. However, I don’t want to paint Curse of the Dead Gods as a copycat, but it is certainly arriving at a time when people are in the mood for this style of game. What sets this apart from Hades has to be its use of light and darkness, with players having to use light to expose traps and enemies, lest they fall prey to those hazards. This could be a lot of fun, or it could just drive people to go back to Hades. Either way, win-win for gamers.
Animal Crossing: New Horizons – Mario Update (Switch) – Releases Feb. 25th
I’m sure more than a few people have fallen off the Animal Crossing train over the last few months (myself included), but every now and then I pop back in when Nintendo drops a slate of new content to check out, and will usually stick around for a couple weeks before dropping out again. In their latest update, Nintendo continues its 35th anniversary celebration of Super Mario Bros. by adding a plethora of Mario themed items and costumes. Is it enough to keep us all engaged for more than a couple days? Probably not, but I’ll be damned if I don’t buy every single piece of furniture I can get my digital hands on.
Ghosts ‘N Goblins Resurrection (Switch) – Releases Feb. 25th
Notorious for being one of the hardest video games of all time, Capcom’s Ghosts ‘N Goblins franchise is finally back, coming to Nintendo Switch this week. The game features all of the same sadistic gameplay you know and love/hate, while featuring a slew of new power-ups that Arthur can call upon, including turning himself into a giant stone ball so he can roll over enemies. For what I think is the first time, the game now features a difficulty slider, allowing you to customize just how much pain you want to inflict upon yourself. One more thing, if you enjoy this title and want more, Capcom also released the Capcom Arcade Stadium on Switch, a free to download game that comes with 1943 and, for a limited time, the original Ghosts ‘N Goblins (offer ends Feb. 25th, 2021).
Bravely Default II (Switch) – Releases Feb. 26th
Have you already finished Atelier Ryza 2 and Ys IX and need your next JRPG fix? Well, lucky you, because Square Enix’s latest title Bravely Default II is ready to rock and roll onto the Switch. With little to no relation to the 3DS titles, this should be an excellent jumping on point for anyone who missed out on those games. Pre-release reviews of the demo have been mixed, with some outlets decrying that the game was too difficult, saying the grinding was boring, while other praised it as some of the best grinding they’d ever seen in an RPG. Either way, if you like these types of games then expect to experience more of the same, it’s not rocket science, it’s an RPG.
Blizzard Arcade Collection (PC/PS4/Switch/Xbox One) – Released Feb. 19th
Rogue Heroes: Ruins of Tasos (PC/Switch) – Releases Feb. 23rd
Taxi Chaos (PS4/Switch/Xbox One) – Releases Feb. 23rd
Wrath: Aeon of Ruin (PC/PS4/Switch/Xbox One) – Releases Feb. 25th
RetroMania Wrestling (PC/PS4/Switch/Xbox One) – Releases Feb. 26th
Notable Releases from 10, 20 and 30 (and sometimes 40) years ago:
Bulletstorm (PC/PS3/Xbox 360) – Released Feb 22nd, 2011: Wiki Link
Bulletstorm, one of the best reviewed games of 2011 was also one of its least successful. Created by the Polish developer People Can Fly, and published by Epic Games and EA, Bulletstorm was supposed to be the next big AAA franchise for Epic, behind Gears of War, but a terrible marketing campaign, a changing marketplace, and bad press turned the game into a major flop. Before the release of Bulletstorm, People Can Fly were best known for the game Painkiller, a mid-tier first person shooter that had a cult following. Seeing potential, Epic Games contracted the company to port Gears of War to PC and had them do supplemental work on Gears of War 2. When it came time to work on their next original game, People Can Fly opted to follow in Gears’ footsteps and create a cover based third person shooter, however, as development progressed and the team started experimenting with unique weapons, they discovered that it was more fun to play Bulletstorm as an FPS. While the game does feature a traditional arsenal of machine guns, pistols, and shotguns, there are also less traditional weapons like the bolo gun that uses grenades as its anchors, and its biggest unique weapon, the leash. This strand of blue energy is Bulletstorm’s main game mechanic, with players using it go grab distant enemies, slam down balls of energy, and interact with terminals in the world, which you use to upgrade your stockpile of guns and buy ammo. Another unique feature of Bulletstorm is your ability to kick enemies and objects, and doing so puts them into a sort of slow motion stasis, leading to various combos where you can kick a bad guy, shoot them, pull them with the leash, and then kick them into a wall of spikes. This combination of attacks was so fun that People Can Fly made it a meta game within Bulletstorm, awarding players points for performing outlandish kills. These points would then be used to upgrade weapons and buy ammo, rewarding experimental players. With a greater emphasis on over the top action and fun, Bulletstorm stood out from the pack, especially Epic’s Gears of War, but EA’s marketing department didn’t quite know how to promote this unique game. How do you convince frat boys who like their environments gray and their protagonists stoic slabs of pure muscle to play the shooter equivalent of a Ska band?
Perhaps worried that this brightly colored, over the top shooter wouldn’t quite appeal to the Call of Duty crowd, EA’s marketing team decided to bill Bulletstorm as the dude-bro alternative, using archaic “boys club” style ads and trafficking in dick and sex jokes, similar to what they might have done ten years earlier (more on that later…). This didn’t sit well with developer People Can Fly, nor with its high profile game designer, Cliff Bleszinski, with both worrying that too much emphasis was being placed on the silliest aspects of the game, and using crass humor and jokes to try and sell it to, I guess the Adult Swim crowd, or whoever their market research told them would react the most effectively to this type of campaign. Despite a very positive critical reception to the game, with many praising the unique gameplay elements, diverse (for the time) color palette, and tongue-in-cheek humor, Bulletstorm was basically dead on arrival. Releasing the same day as Sony’s Killzone 3, players ignored Bulletstorm, opting instead to put on their 3D glasses and trudge through 6 hours of incredibly dull (but, like, super serious) gameplay. Despite the efforts of People Can Fly, Bulletstorm had zero name recognition with the title itself, so the success of the game hinged on Cliff Blesinzski’s star power and EA’s terrible marketing; both fell short. Bleszinski was set to appear on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon to promote the game, but was bumped by an unscheduled appearance by Justin Bieber, while EA’s in your face marketing strategy backfired, turning off a changing demographic in video games. One other possible contributing factor to the failure of Bulletstorm came from Fox News who ran a story about, get this, violence in video games. In an article titled Is Bulletstorm The Worst Video Game In The World?, psychologist Carole Lieberman tried to draw a connection between the rise in rapes against women and the increasing level of violence in video games which, by 2011, was nearly 40 years old (and almost 20 years since the release of Mortal Kombat, Night Trap, Doom, etc.). To Lieberman, some of Bulletstorm’s skill shots, the in-game reward system, contained names like “gang bang” and “topless”, two terms that were sure to cause irreparable harm to the youth of America, causing them to turn into violent rapists. This was cited as fact, despite years of research that indicated there was no tangible connection between video games and real world violence, and a US Department of Justice study which showed that rape had been statistically decreasing in the U.S. since the 1970’s. It’s tough to say if this article had a major effect on the game’s sales, but it certainly didn’t help it. A few years after its disastrous release, People Can Fly went independent, leaving Epic behind, and they re-released Bulletstorm on the PS4, Switch, and Xbox One, even fixing and re-mastering the wonky PC version. I won’t tell you that this is the best game ever made, but for a few hours of entertainment you could certainly do worse.
Fear Effect 2: Retro Helix (PlayStation) – Released Feb. 21st, 2001: Wiki Link
Fear Effect, from developer Kronos Digital Entertainment, was a commercial and critical success, and that generally leads to one thing; a sequel. When Fear Effect 2: Retro Helix was released a year later, players were treated to a prequel, the new entertainment buzzword that was taking the entertainment industry by storm, thanks in large part to Star Wars Episode I. Critics were enamored with the title, calling it one of the best games of the year and a spectacular title to close out the lifespan of the original PlayStation. Featuring most of the same gameplay elements of the first game, Fear Effect 2 actually toned down the action, and placed a greater emphasis on the puzzles. While Fear Effect 2 could have been marketed as a psychological horror game, with action elements, Eidos’ marketing department decided that they should not really focus on the game, but instead they should devote all of their budget to making sure gamers knew that the two female protagonists are, like, totally lesbians who do each other. What Bulletstorm would have to go through exactly ten years later, the developers of Fear Effect 2 had to contend with as well. One big difference, however, is that Kronos was actually kind of into it. While they had hoped their publisher Eidos would have ran a second ad campaign that touted the actual gameplay, they thought the sexy ad campaign was pretty cool, and even saw it as a huge deal that their PSONE game was even given a marketing budget at all, what with the PS2 all but dominating the gaming landscape at the time. On a personal level, I actually really despise this game, and not just because of the horrible marketing that I looked at many times in the bathroom, but because I don’t like the health system. Instead of having traditional recovery items, Fear Effect 2 rewards you with health when you perform various tasks in the game, and they seem to be incredibly arbitrary. This means, if you were like me, and saved your game while your health was low, if you die, you re-load your last save and continually live in that loop, until the game decides that you have eventually done something good enough to get your health back up. It’s stupid, I hate it, I’ll never play this game again.
King of the Monsters (Arcade) – Released Feb. 25th, 1991: Wiki Link
SNK’s King of the Monsters is a good example of style over substance. While this arcade brawler might look like a good time on the surface, once you spend more than a few minutes with it you begin to realize that there really isn’t much there. King of the Monsters features six playable fighters, each taking inspiration from Japanese Kaiju films, including a Godzilla type, an Ultraman type, and a King Kong type. These instantly recognizable movie monsters are part of what makes King of the Monsters so appealing, as it allows every kid to live out their giant monster vs. giant monster fantasies, all while smashing up real life Japanese cities like Tokyo, Kyoto, and Osaka. Played out over the course of 12 levels, players must defeat each monster twice, including a cloned version of themselves, before they are crowed the ultimate champion and, of course, king of the monsters. With the seminal fighting game Street Fighter II still about a month away, KotM has a lot in common with arcade wrestling games, with less of an emphasis on special attacks, and more of a focus on grappling, throwing, and pinning your opponent when their stamina is low. Critical reception to the game was pretty low, with most outlets calling it a boring dud with little to offer, but man, that sure didn’t stop players from pumping quarters into it. KotM was a major financial success for SNK, and I assume a large reason for that was the promise of making “Godzilla” (Geon) fight “King Kong” (Woo). As with most Neo Geo arcade games, SNK has ported this title to just about every console imaginable, and is easily obtained on whatever modern console you currently have hooked up to your television set. Again, it’s pretty bare bones, so your overall enjoyment of it might be influenced by how much nostalgia you have for the game, but I think it’s worth a look if you have the money to spare.
Gorf (Arcade) – Released Feb. 1981: Wiki Link
Making a game that copies the mechanics of another game has been a time honored tradition dating back to the earliest video games. There have been tons of copycat games based on Pac-Man, Doom, Grand Theft Auto, you name it, but it isn’t often you get a game that is literally a copy of another game. Back in 1981, Bally Midway’s new title Gorf, which stands for “Galactic Orbiting Robot Force”, was released to arcades and bore a striking resemblance to two other popular games of the time; Space Invaders and Galaxian, and there was something familiar about the space ship you were piloting. Going back a bit, Bally Midway had been contracted to create a video game based on Star Trek: The Motion Picture, but after the script they came to the conclusion that there was no way you could make a game based on the movie. They dropped the license and continued making their game, keeping the Enterprise design for the player’s ship, and taking “inspiration” from the two arcade hits I mentioned earlier. While Gorf was highly derivative, it did do some fairly groundbreaking things. The first was that Gorf featured multiple screens, a first for arcade games, showing players not only different environments, but different viewpoints and ways to play. The second major thing that Gorf pioneered was synthesized speech, with the Gorfian robots teasing the player at various points during the game. It’s easy to see the appeal of Gorf (which if you haven’t figured out by now is “frog” spelled backwards), largely because it felt like a “greatest hits” of gaming all rolled up into one cabinet. Instead of spending a quarter on Space Invaders, and quarter on Galaxian, you could throw one quarter into Gorf, play both games, and also be treated to the unique original stages that Bally Midway came up, not to mention the (for the time) outstanding graphical effects. Gorf was well received by critics and players, even winning a few awards for its home console ports, but as time went on it would be forgotten and abandoned, a prisoner to its unapologetic stealing of copyrighted IP. To play Gorf today you’ll need to resort to emulation, but I’m going to wager that the creators of the game won’t really mind, after all, it’s just a bit of harmless stealing.
Hey, I was on the most recent episode of The AVoCADo GamesCast with Merve and Lilly “Lovely Bones”; check it out: https://the-avocado.org/2021/02/22/avocado-gamescast-74-tales-of-vapourwave/
If you like what I’m doing here consider supporting me on Patreon: