I thought March was supposed to come in like a lion, but instead it’s looking more like a snail *DAB*. Unless you’re a die hard fan of any of these franchises I would suggest skipping most of this stuff, or at least waiting until deep, deep discounts arrive. Don’t worry, things will pick up in a couple weeks, so until then just keep playing Bowser’s Fury and Bravely Default II.
Harvest Moon: One World (PS4/Switch) – Releases Mar. 2nd
From Natsume, the owners of the name Harvest Moon and not the creators of the series, comes their latest installment to the franchise that has delighted players for almost three decades. In One World, players will once again tend to their very own farm where they can grow crops and raise livestock, as well as fall in love with the man or woman of their dreams. However, this time there is also a separate quest in which players must find The Harvest Goddess who has mysteriously disappeared! You won’t have to search alone, though, as little creatures called Harvest Wisps will be there to help you out.
Ground Zero: Texas (PC/PS4) – Releases Mar. 2nd
Originally released in 1993 for the Sega CD, Ground Zero: Texas was another entry in the interactive movie genre that the console seemed to be best known for, following in the footsteps of titles like Night Trap and Sewer Shark. Shot with a full Hollywood production crew and directed by Halloween 4’s Dwight H. Little, this game has the distinction of being one of the very first to have to negotiate with SAG, the Director’s Guild, and the Writer’s Guild. Was it worth it? Probably not, the video quality was atrocious, the acting was terrible, the writing was abysmal, and the controls were terrible…so of course that means it should be remastered for PC and PS4. You can probably view this as more of a curious oddity than a must-play piece art.
Maquette (PC/PS4/PS5) – Releases Mar. 2nd
Prestige house Annapurna Interactive, the number one name in games that allow you to feel superior to others, is back with a brand new puzzle game called Maquette. In this game, players will be presented with a slew of objects that are both incredibly tiny and massively big, at the same time. It’s a mind bender for sure, giving the whole game a very MC Escher vibe. Annapurna is also really stoked on having big Hollywood talents Bryce Dallas Howard and Seth Gabel doing voice over work on the game, because as we all know, NOTHING says prestige and importance like having Hollywood actors in your game, just look at Ground Zero: Texas. Oh, and if you’re a PlayStation Plus subscriber you’ll get a copy of this game for free on the PS5.
Neptunia Virtual Stars (PS4) – Releases Mar 2nd (PC on Mar. 29th)
I don’t think I can sum up what this game is about better than it’s official website can:
Enter Virtualand – a digital world that exists
alongside the networks of various dimensions.
Within Virtualand lies the planet Emote –
a planet faced with extinction due to the maleficent
group of Content destroyers known as Antis.
In an act of desperation, the Digital Goddess of the planet Emote, Faira,
sends a distress signal to other dimensions
in hopes to find a savior of this planet.
And the saviors that were reached?
The rising Vtuber stars, Me and You, members of MEWTRAL,
as well as the Goddesses of Gamindustri: Neptune, Noire, Blanc, and Vert!
Can MEWTRAL and the Goddesses band together
and save the planet Emote from complete destruction?
Everhood (PC/Switch) – Releases Mar. 4th
I get strong Earthbound and Undertale vibes from this new action RPG. It seems to hit all the boxes required to be a proper indie title; pixel graphics, deconstruction of previously established genres, two person development team, tongue in cheek humor, etc. Are we looking at the next big indie title or is this just another in a long line of games that we all instantly forget about?
Ports and Re-releases:
Yakuza: Like a Dragon (PS5) – Releases Mar. 2nd
This is probably the only game worth your time and money this week if you have 1. Never played it, and 2. Own a PlayStation 5. If you don’t own a PS5 and still haven’t played this, well, use this as a reminder to check out one of the best games from 2020.
Two Point Hospital: Jumbo Edition (PS4/Switch/Xbox One) – Releases Mar. 5th
Two Point Hospital has already been released on consoles, but now we have an even bigger version of that game coming to consoles, just in case you didn’t already buy it for your console. I’ve got quite a few consoles myself, do you have consoles? What’s your favorite console out of all the consoles that exist?
Monster Jam Steel Titans 2 (PC/PS4/Stadia/Switch/Xbox One) – Releases Mar. 2nd
Sir Lovelot (PC/PS4/PS5/Switch/Xbox One/Series S|X) – Releases Mar. 3rd
Notable Releases from 10, 20 and 30 years ago:
Dragon Age II (PC/PS3/Xbox 360) – Released Mar. 8th, 2011: Wiki Link
Bioware’s Dragon Age: Origins was a smash hit when it came out in 2009, so of course a sequel was greenlit, however its mixed reception was a bit of a shock. While the first game in the series took about seven years to make, Dragon Age II was given a turn around time of 14 to 16 months, well below even the most rushed AAA games. What players ended up with was a title with great ideas and a wonderful cast of characters stuck in a handful of similar locations and a multitude of dungeons that all shared the same assets. Mercifully, the game has a fairly short completion time, roughly 25 hours, but the quests and locations start to feel like a slog after the first few hours. Adding to player frustration with the sequel, is also the change in combat. While Origins felt kind of like a throwback to the old Baldur’s Gate or Icewind Dale games, II eschewed a bit closer to Diablo, with combat less about strategy and timing, and more about hacking and slashing your way to victory, with almost no need to ever make strong, tactical decisions about how to approach a fight. This change in combat was seen as a way to dumb down the game for casual players, according to hardcore fans of the first title, and had this been used on any other game it probably would have been praised, but because Origins had such a high pedigree there was less forgiveness given to Bioware. However, while the gameplay was criticized by players, critics enjoyed it, saying it gave the game a more fast paced feel that was, dare they say it, actually fun. Critics were divided on the story, with some calling the unreliable narrator and three act structure wonderful because it gave the game the feeling of playing through a great novel. Others were less impressed, particularly in the way that your dialogue choices made almost no difference in how the game played out, being merely an illusion. Detractors also disliked the three act structure, saying act 1 is too long, act 2 is the climax and features way too much stuff not at all related to the main story, and then act 3 being far too short, ending on a cliffhanger of all things. One point of criticism, that seems to predict the coming Gamergate storm that plagued us through the 2010’s, came from a forum post on the official Dragon Age message board, where one player complained that there were too many homosexual advances made against his character. He said that Bioware needed to focus more on straight, male gamers and put in an option to remove all homosexual content in the game. Dragon Age II’s writer, David Gaider, responded to the guy, telling him that the game was made to be inclusive to everyone, but then curiously brought up that it would have been too expensive to have different romantic options per gender. Does this mean that if they had more time and money they would have taken this into account? At the end of the day, Dragon Age II was still a massive financial success, but turned off a lot of the first game’s players. This didn’t stop Bioware, though, and it only helped them out, because by the time the third game in the series, Inquisition, released in 2014, would go on to be herald as one of the greatest video games of all time, proving that just because you stumble, it doesn’t mean you can’t pick yourself up off the ground.
Two vastly different titles were released 20 years ago this week; one coming in at the end of a consoles life cycle and the other coming in at the beginning of a consoles life cycle.
By 2001, developer Rareware was seen as one of the best in the video game business. Over the last decade, their titles had been seen as, for the most part, undeniable classics in the medium. One of Rare’s most popular platforming titles was Banjo-Kazooie, a bright game that featured cute animals, and it looked like they were gearing up for even more, as seen by the cast of Diddy Kong Racing. One of these characters, Conker the squirrel, was slated to have his own platforming title called Twelve Tales: Conker 64, a light hearted romp that would have felt very similar to Banjo-Kazooie. However, during play testing, it was felt that both games felt almost too similar, and if players had to choose between one or the other, they’d go with Banjo’s game. Looking for a way to make Conker feel different, one of the game’s artists, Chris Seavor, pitched an idea for a game in which players would control Conker over the course of a single day. Throughout the day, Conker would be asked to help NPCs with their problems, only to foul them up and cause more havoc than when he first arrived. Causing mischief wasn’t the only change, though, Seavor also wanted to make Conker “edgy” and asked to include more adult themes, such as sexuality, alcohol consumption, swearing, and gratuitous, gory violence. The heads at Rare loved the idea and promoted Seavor to project lead. From there the ball started rolling fast, with Seavor punching up the first mission, in which players must retrieve a bee hive, by having the queen jump into it and blast away the thieves who took it with a pair of mounted machine guns. Heads Tim and Chris Stamper found the idea so hilarious that they instructed the team to have all missions be based on a sort of joke formula where you have a set up, player interaction, and an extreme punchline. This led to a sense of playfulness and freedom for the team, who felt very liberated by the whole thing. Jokes would fly around the room, with many improv sessions where they would record dialogue for the game and just tell jokes. Playing through the game, you can tell that a lot of is off the cuff, feeling a lot like those Rick & Morty episodes where they watch cable channels from other dimensions.
After getting trounced by Sega in the 16-bit console wars, Nintendo was now having to compete with Sony and the PlayStation, seen as the more “mature” console for grown up players. Hoping to shed their kid-friendly image a bit, Nintendo was tepidly receptive to Conker’s Bad Fur Day and its raunchy content, however they refused to acknowledge its release in Nintendo Power, and the game was even banned from KB Toys. In order to drum up publicity for the game, advertising/media agency Starcom decided to target college aged males and fratboys, putting Conker in urinals at bars, giving out Conker condoms, shooting a risque commercial that implied Conker had sex with a woman, putting ads in Maxim magazine, and partnering with Playboy on a cross country promotion. Held at 20 colleges across the U.S., playmate Miriam Gonzalez was the host of a tournament in which players would compete in the game’s multiplayer mode for a chance to attend a Playmate of the Year party at the Playboy Mansion. All of this, however, did not translate into sales, with Conker’s Bad Fur Day selling less than 55k copies in its first month. All that marketing money inflated the game’s budget, not to mention the cost of producing the cartridge for game, one of the largest in the N64’s library. It wasn’t too long after the release of Conker’s Bad Fur Day that Rare began fielding offers from other companies, eventually joining Microsoft who was gearing up to release their new console, the Xbox. Original copies of Conker can fetch a high price on reseller sites like eBay, but if you want to easily play the game today then just grab an Xbox One and a copy of Rare Replay, one of the handful of games that every XBone owner should have in their collection. A remake of the game called Live & Reloaded came out in 2005, but aside from an AR game for the HoloLens called Young Conker, Rare has never made a sequel to the game, making Conker yet another video game character to be added to the pile of one and done protagonists.
Moving on, let’s talk about The Bouncer, another fun but flawed title.
Like Rare, Squaresoft was another well respected game developer known mostly for the classic RPGs, including Final Fantasy VII, Chrono Trigger, Secret of Mana, etc., so when word came that they were getting ready to release their first game for the PS2, the hype levels were through the roof. While most would have assumed the first Square game to be an RPG, they went a bit left field and released, of all things, a beat ’em up/fighting game. Made by the team at DreamFacotry who made Tobal No. 1 and Ehrgeiz, The Bouncer was originally thought to be a sequel to Ehrgeiz, but was instead a completely original story. Set in the fictional city of Edge, players take on the role of three night club bouncers, Sion, Volt, and Kou. With their friend Dominique kidnapped, the trio set out into the city as they try to infiltrate the building of the Mikado Group, a communications company that seems to employ a lot of ninjas. The game features character designs by Tetsuya Nomura, which is why Sion looks like a cross between Tidus and Sora. In an interview with IGN conducted in 2000, Nomura was asked what his character design inspiration came from. He started off by saying that Squall in FFVIII was based on River Phoenix but no one understood, so the clothes that the characters in The Bouncer wear are just based on their personalities. He then went on to say that DreamFactory rejected many of his designs before settling on their final looks. When the game released it was savagely eviscerated by critics. With a play time of roughly an hour and a half, The Bouncer was seen as a series of glorified cut scenes with very little game content. In fact, if you were to skip all of the videos, there is only about 30-40 minutes of actual interactive gameplay. Praise was given to the incredible graphics, and critics did enjoy the story and characters, but with so little to do, The Bouncer was seen as not worth players time or money, and they listened. Sales of the game were a disaster for Squaresoft, selling less than 1 million units worldwide, falling well short of expectations. It was okay, though, Square had an ace up its sleeve, a brand new entry in the Final Fantasy series…for theatres, called The Spirits Within. Surely this new film would turn 2001 around for them, right?
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Turtles in Time (Arcade) – Released Mar. 1991: Wiki Link
Continuing our discussion of beloved game developers, in the late 80 and early 90’s Konami was, at least in my eyes, the king of the beat ’em up genre. Their 1989 classicTeenage Mutant Ninja Turtles was a staple of every arcade back then, and you can probably still find cabinets in arcades and bars today if you look hard enough. While it didn’t reach my radar until it arrived on the SNES in 1992, Turtles In Time hit North American arcades in March of 1991, continuing the same great gameplay of its predecessor while adding in a couple of new attacks, and sending the Turtles on a quest that spanned the centuries. Bosses and enemies were pulled from both the animated series and the soon to be released Secret of the Ooze film. I don’t really have much to say about this game, I didn’t spend a lot of time in arcades playing it, and you don’t really see cabinets floating around out there. As I mentioned, a Super Nintendo port was released in 1992, and a remake would be developed and released in 2009 to poor critical reception before being pulled out of digital storefronts in 2011. I guess we’ll talk more about it next year when the SNES version was released, so until then, cowabunga, or something.
If you like what I’m doing here consider supporting me on Patreon: