The good news is that we have a lot of diverse, interesting titles coming out this week. The bad news is that none of them look like they are going to pull us out of this funk we’re in with new releases. In fact, most of the stuff that looks good is either a port of an older title or an expansion to something that’s already out. Still, some interesting indies do keep things a bit fresh, but I can’t really say any of them look like day one purchases. Just hold out until next week’s new Monster Hunter game and catch up on your backlog!
Stubbs The Zombie in Rebel Without a Pulse (PC/PS4/Switch/Xbox One) – Releases Mar. 16th
Originally released in 2005 for the Xbox and PC, Stubbs the Zombie is an action/adventure game in which players take on the role of titular characters Stubbs as he devours brains and raises an army of the undead in a retro-futuristic city called Punchbowl (founded by Nazi’s, of course). The single game offering from the now defunct Wideload studio, founded by former Bungie devs, the original game touted its connections to Halo, including that the game was built on the same engine, as if that made them equal somehow. It garnered favorable reviews but it did not translate into sales, making the game somewhat of a cult classic. Perhaps it is most notorious for being part of Senator Joe Lieberman’s latest attempt during an election year to paint video games as a destructive force on America’s youth…by turning them into cannibals (I am not joking). Maybe he should have picked a more popular game to lambast. Now here we are, 16 years later and the youth of America are going to be too busy playing Fortnite to give a shit about Stubbs The Zombie, but maybe that 2005 nostalgia will hit the 25 Millennials out there who bought this game when it first released.
The game also features a pretty neat soundtrack with some of 2005’s hottest indie rock groups doing covers of classic hits from the 1950’s, including Death Cab For Cutie, The Raveonettes, Phantom Planet, and this track from The Flaming Lips:
Mundaun (PC/PS4/PS5/Switch/Xbox One/Series S|X) – Releases Mar. 16th
Continuing with the horror theme we somehow find ourselves in this mid-March, comes the first of two spooky first person adventure/puzzle games. In Mundaun, players must travel to the titular town to investigate the mysterious death of their grandfather. Taking place in the serene Swiss Alps, you will explore the wilderness, solve puzzles, and climb Mt. Mundaun, all in glorious black and white with hand drawn, pencil graphics. It’s a strange sight to behold, as you’ll see in the video above, and fits well with the creepy aesthetic they’re going for.
Saviors of Sapphire Wings & Stranger of Sword City Revisited (PC/Switch) – Releases Mar. 16th
Two first person, dungeon crawler JRPGs are coming to Switch this week, further cementing that console as one of the most prolific RPG machines ever made. The first is Saviors of Sapphire Wings, which was known as Blue-Winged Chevalier in Japan, is a remake of a Japanese-only game called Students of the Round. That’s a lot of different names for a game where you walk around a bunch of screens, killing monsters in a maze. The second title, Stranger of Sword City, was a rare Xbox 360 Japan-only console exclusive, before hitting PC and Vita, both of which came to the U.S. in 2016. Now with the Revisited subtitle, the game features a slew of new content and options.
In Rays of the Light (PS4/PS5/Switch/Xbox One) – Releases Mar. 17th
The second horror based first person adventure/puzzle game of the week, In Rays of the Light has players exploring an abandoned town that has been completely overrun by nature. The game promises to be a meditation on the human condition and our place in the world. Okay.
Root Film (PS4/Switch) – Releases Mar. 19th
In this sequel to Root Letter, players will take on two roles; Rintaro, an aspiring young film director, and Riho, an aspiring young actress, as they find themselves wrapped up in a murder mystery. With a similar play style to Root Letter, this game should feel very familiar to fans of that game. One thing to note, while the game received great reviews in Japan, it was a massive bomb, selling far less units than anticipated. What does this mean, exactly? Who knows, but if you like to play the speculative market game then you should consider picking up a physical copy of this game.
Ports and Re-releases:
Kingdoms of Amalur: Re-Reckoning (Switch) – Releases Mar. 16th
From writer R.A. Salvatore, artist Todd McFarlane, and baseball player/right wing tool Curt Schilling, comes yet another port of their failed 2012 RPG.
Samurai Shodown (Series S|X) – Releases Mar. 16th
While this game is currently available on almost every platform out there, if you’ve been sleeping on it then you might want to pickup the Series S|X version. Everyone knows that games are better when they’re on a next gen console, so why not annoy your friends who don’t have a Series S|X by texting them the word “FUCK!”, and a picture of you smiling next to your new console, every time the computer beats you.
Marvel’s Avengers (PS5/Series S|X) – Releases Mar. 18th
This game is supposed to be a pile of garbage, but I mean, they wouldn’t port it to next gen consoles if it wasn’t good, right? Oh, and now you can play as Hawkeye.
Plants vs Zombies: Battle For Neighborville (Switch) – Releases Mar. 19th
I’d rather play this than Fortnite. I’d rather have a root canal than play Fortnite, so that isn’t saying much.
The Outer Worlds: Murder on Eridanos (PC/PS4/Xbox One) – Releases Mar. 17th
Obsidian is on their second expansion to The Outer Worlds and I still haven’t finished the main game. In this latest adventure, players must travel to the planet of Eridanos to help solve the murder of Halcyon Helon, the spokesperson for the brand new Spectrum Brown Vodka (yuck).
Borderland’s 3: Director’s Cut (PC/PS4/PS5/Stadia/Xbox One/Series S|X) – Releases Apr. 8th
Borderlands 3: Director’s Cut was moved to April 8th, so lets put a pin in this until then.
R.B.I. Baseball 21 (PC/PS4/Switch/Xbox One/Series S|X) – Releases Mar. 16th
Hyperspace : Andy’s Adventure (PC) – Releases Mar. 17th
Neurodeck (PC/Switch) – Releases Mar. 18th
Notable Releases from 10, 20 and 30 (and sometimes 40) years ago:
Crysis 2 (PC/PS3/Xbox 360) – Released Mar. 22nd, 2011: Wiki Link
After two slam dunk offerings in Far Cry and Crysis, developer Crytek was poised to release their biggest, most advanced title to date; instead a buggy, beta version of the PC game was leaked online, causing Crysis 2 to be the most pirated game of 2011. Still, the game was able to eke out a respectable 3 million copies sold in the first few months due to overwhelming sales on the Xbox 360 and PS3, with 360 sales making up over half of all purchases. Players seemed to enjoy the game, but critics weren’t as kind. While there was praise given to the beautiful graphics and unique upgrades players could make to their nanosuit, it was strongly criticized for its linear gameplay, a far cry (HA) from their previous games, both of which featured highly explorable open worlds. Another big difference between Crysis 2 and Crytek’s previous games was the setting, with Far Cry and Crysis being set in lush, tropical jungles, and Crysis 2 taking place in New York City (although they joked it was an “urban jungle”). You could call this a cynical way to appeal to the mainstream gaming masses who had embraced drab, boring cityscapes in their favorite shooters Call of Duty and Gears of War, but critics really enjoyed the change of scenery, and praised Crytek for incorporating a cacophony of color in Crysis 2, something that their contemporaries failed to do in their games (although, after playing this for several hours I can honestly say I don’t think I saw any colors aside from black, white, gray and brown). As I noted earlier, piracy was a huge issue for Crytek when they released Crysis 2. They were very worried that people would judge the game on an older, bug riddled, version of the game and pass on purchasing it; and if you look at the PC sales, they kind of did. However, pirates were also able to eventually crack the 360 and PS3 versions as well, and it didn’t seem to hurt initial sales. It’s hard to say how much better Crysis 2 could have done without pirates leaking the PC version early, but as Jim Sterling pointed out in a March 28th article on Destructoid, “I wouldn’t expect EA to care much now, though, since the PC is apparently not where the money is. Can’t fault people for wanting their games to actually sell, y’know“. Yep, that PC is a terrible place to release games, NO ONE is buying for it, and they probably never will…right?
Serious Sam: The First Encounter (PC) – Released Mar. 21st, 2001: Wiki Link
In the aftermath of 1992’s Wolfenstein 3D and 1993’s Doom, game companies were scrambling to create their own fast paced, ultra violent first person shooters. For the next few years the PC would be flush with imitators, both good and bad, but by the end of the 90’s you started to see slower paced, more cerebral FPS games come out like Half-Life, Deus Ex and System Shock 2. It seems silly, but after nine years it felt like the old style of FPS games was out and the new versions were in; that is until Serious Sam was released. In a throwback to the hectic insanity of titles like Doom and Duke NUkem 3D, Serious Sam was all about running and gunning, with outlandish enemies, massive weapons, and tongue in cheek humor. However, while you might assume Serious Sam was an attempt to re-capture this old spirit, the game was originally developed in 1996, at the height of this style of FPS game. Serious Sam took a long time to make because developer Croteam wanted to create their own engine, one that could outperform all the others of the day. With a strong emphasis on long draw distances and the ability to have massive amounts of enemies on screen all at once, it took a few years for the small team to get it right. Without many resources to test across multiple different types of PC builds, Croteam enlisted the help of voluntary beta testers around the world to play the game and report any problems. It was through this public beta testing that Croteam actually found the voice actor to play their title character, John J. Dick, after he was so impressed with the game that he sent Croteam a note stating his desire to voice the character. With the game finally polished and ready for release, Croteam was ready to unleash Serious Sam to the world; but would they be ready to play something that wasn’t so…serious?
Out the gate, Serious Sam was a big hit with critics, gaining high scores from outlets like IGN, Gamespot, PC Gamer, GamePro, The Electric Playground, but it was seminal gaming website Old Man Murray that carried the torch for Serious Sam and helped put Croteam and their game on the map with a semi-serious interview about the game’s public beta release in 2000 and once again after it was released. Critics were overjoyed at what they all saw as a return to the days of Doom, where first person shooters were less about giving you a story driven narrative and more about giving you hordes of monsters to kill. While Serious Sam lacked the tone and prestige of Deus Ex and Thief, it was so much fun to play that if you were 23 in 2001 it reminded you of what it was like to be 15 back in 1993, without any cares in the world except which monsters face you were going to blast off in Doom. By the end of the year, Serious Sam had racked up a serious amount of accolades from the gaming press, with Gamespot even giving it their Game of the Year award (shared with GTA III). Other awards included Best Independent PC Game from The Electric Playground, Best End Boss from GameSpy, and Surprise of the Year from IGN, among many others. Croteam would follow up the success of Serious Sam with a sequel just 11 months later called The Second Encounter, and would continue to release both spin-off titles (usually from other developers) and entries in the main series, with the most recent, Serious Sam 4, being released in 2020. While Serious Sam isn’t as big a name in the FPS genre as Doom, Quake, Call of Duty, or even Duke Nukem, its influence on the next decade plus of gaming is undeniable, from titles like Rage, Borderlands, and Bulletstorm, just to name a few. If you’ve passed up this game over the years, don’t fret, as you can easily pick up and HD remaster of The First Encounter on any modern console or for PC, so give it a try.
Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (Taito) (NES) – Released Mar. 1991: Wiki Link
Two years after the release of the film, the THIRD game to be based on Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, and first of two for the NES, was released by publisher Taito and developer Software Creations. Best known for releasing NES titles like Silver Surfer, Solstice and Sky Shark, their version of The Last Crusade was much different than the action title that was published by U.S. Gold for other homes consoles and PC. While that game was a standard side scroller that moved along to the plot of the film, Software Creations decided to allow players to tell the story in whatever way they wanted by giving them choices about what to do next. For example, in the opening of the game you can either follow the plot of the film and recover the Cross of Coronado from Panama Hat and his goons, or you can bypass that and go directly to Venice and investigate the location of the Holy Grail. As you complete each level you are then given more choices about what to do next, with some levels being easier to finish if you complete specific ones first, including finishing the game easily. While level selection was one departure from the earlier version of the game, another was that Software Creation’s version had multiple types of games rolled into one. While there were traditional side scrolling levels, some levels required you to solve puzzles, other had you navigate mazes, and another has you fight Nazis on top of a moving tank. There was even a sort of bonus level that you could play in if you fail to complete a level, with the Germans stealing Indy’s father’s diary, resulting in a top down motorcycle chase sequence that has you driving through the German countryside in an attempt to retrieve the book. Reviews were kind to the game, giving praise to the graphics and sound. As far as licensed games go, The Last Crusade isn’t that bad, honestly. It can be a bit tough, and the controls aren’t as tight as they could be, but if you got this as a birthday present in 1991 it wouldn’t have been the end of the world. Sadly, this game is obviously not available to play in any kind of legal way, aside from finding a copy of the original cartridge, so if you want to give it a try you’ll need to resort to emulation, womp womp.
Scramble (Arcade) – Released Mar. 1981: Wiki Link
The horizontal scrolling shooter, often referred to as a shoot ’em up or “shmup”, is a video game staple that sits along side all the classic genres like side scrollers, fighting games, RPGs, first person shooters, etc. However, in 1981, this genre wasn’t quite as well known. In fact, I don’t think it existed at all until the release of Konami’s Scramble. Set in the “future”, Scramble has players continually moving to the right as they shoot down enemy ships and avoid hazardous terrain and other obstacles. The game is often seen as a precursor to Konami’s Gradius series, and it was even considered part of that franchise’s cannon for a short period of time before being spun off into its own “Konami Arcade Shooting Game” franchise. Scramble was a big hit when it released in March of 1981 with both critics and players, with particular praise being given to the game’s story (if you could call it that), by having players take on a mission that they must see through to the end. If you’re wondering “what mission“, that is to reach the end of level five and destroy “The Base”. As players guide their jet through each level, they have the option to shoot a forward firing weapon to drop bombs on enemies below them. These bombs, aside from blowing up enemies, must also be used to explode fuel canisters that, somehow, refuel the jet and allow you to continue playing. While early levels are difficult but fair, the final two stages are very hard to get through, particularly level 5 which features some of the most difficult level navigation I’ve ever seen in a video game (so difficult in fact that I couldn’t even get to the end of the game). Despite the difficulty, Scramble gained a large following in the arcade and helped make Konami a well known name in the arcade scene where they’d release several titles in 1981 including Amidar, Jungler, Strategy X, Turtles, Video Hustler, and two games we’ll likely cover, the very well known Frogger and the sequel to Scramble, Super Cobra. Unlike many of arcade titles of the day, Scramble did not receive any ports to the most popular home consoles, instead it was ported to the less known Tommy Tutor and the Vectrex, however it did receive unauthorized clones, like the game Airstrike for the Atari 2600. After doing some digging, after it released in Tommy Tutor in 1983, Scramble wouldn’t appear on any home consoles until 2002 when it would release on the Game Boy Advance as part of the Konami Collector’s Series: Arcade Advanced, followed by a release on the Xbox 360 in 2006, and most recently as part of the Konami Arcade Classics Anniversary Collection in 2019. One final note, Scramble is also well known for being one of the first video game to challenge copyright infringement due to the massive amounts of clones of popular arcade games. A company called Omni Video Games released a game called Scramble 2 just one month after the release of Scramble, leading to a legal challenge from the U.S. license holder, Stern Electronics. Before this case, it was only the underlying code that the game was programmed with that you could copyright, but Stern argued that not only could you copyright the code, but you could also copyright your artwork and sound. Omni tried to claim it was fair use, and that images were created by the code, and the images were not fixed because they are either controlled by the player or by the computer code, and as such, could not be considered an original work. The Supreme Court disagreed with that assessment and concluded that enough of the art and sound remained fixed, regardless of player input or computer code commands, and that the moment of originality occurs when the art and sound are created by the developers. As I mentioned earlier, Scramble would go on to have a long lasting effect on Konami who would release the game’s follow-up Super Cobra just a few months later, eventually leading to one of its most enduring and successful franchises of all time Gradius/Nemesis in 1985. It might look and play like an archaic relic today, but there is a lot of fun to be had with Scramble, just don’t expect to get past level 5.
Finally, here’s a new Tiger’s Jaw song I really like:
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