I don’t really feel like doing commentary on the games this week, so instead I’ll do my cop out and post songs that each game reminds me of. ENJOY!
Poison Control (PS4/Switch) – Releases Apr. 13th
Ashwalkers (PC) – Releases Apr. 15th
The Darkside Detective: A Fumble in the Dark (PC/PS4/PS5/Stadia/Switch/Xbox One/Series X|S) – Releases Apr. 15th
Rain On Your Parade (PC/Switch/Xbox One/Series X|S) – Releases Apr. 15th
Battle Axe (Switch) – Releases Apr. 16th
Ports and Re-releases:
SaGa Frontier Remastered (Android/iOS/PC/PS4/Switch) – Releases Apr. 15th
Shadow Man: Remastered (PC) – Releases Apr. 15th (Console versions “coming soon”)
Demon Skin (PC) – Releases Apr. 13th
Forgotten Fields (PC) – Releases Apr. 14th
Knight Squad 2 (PC/Switch/Xbox One) – Releases Apr. 14th
Dragon Audit (Switch) – Releases Apr. 15th
Godstrike (PC/Switch) – Releases Apr. 15th
Livestream: Escape from Hotel Izanami (Switch) – Releases Apr. 15th
Pocoyo Party (Switch) – Releases Apr. 15th
Notable Releases from 10, 20 and 30 years ago:
Oh, I should probably write something about these games, huh?
Portal 2 (PC/PS3/Xbox 360) – Released Apr. 19th, 2011: Wiki Link
When Valve released The Orange Box in 2007, the most anticipated piece was the continuing story of Half-Life 2, followed by the long awaited sequel Team Fortress 2, but it was an unknown puzzle game that took the entire world by storm; Portal. With its unique gameplay mechanics, strong protagonist, memorable villain, and a high focus on humor, Portal came out of left field and quickly eclipsed its Orange Box counterparts. If people had one complaint about this otherwise perfect game, is that Portal is far too short, and Valve knew it too. Immediately after the release of The Orange Bo, Valve put together a 30-40 person team and had them begin to build levels and test them. Original writers Erik Wolpaw and Chet Faliszek were joined by Jay Pinkerton, a former writer and editor for The National Lampoon and Cracked Magazine. One of the main changes in Portal 2 was the inclusion of a co-op mode, and in doing so, Wolpaw and Pinkerton focused on the single player campaign, while Faliszek came up with the outline for the co-op mode while also writing all of GLaDOS’ dialogue. One major thing the writers wanted to do was to nix any and all references to cake, the runaway hit meme that the first Portal popularized, citing that if players thought they were tired of all the cake jokes, the writers were just as, if not more, tired of hearing them. Originally Portal 2 was conceived as a prequel to the first game, with the game taking place in the 1950s, where Aperture Science founder Cave Johnson had inserted his brain into an AI, causing him to go nuts and take over the facility with an army of robots, with players taking on the role of an unnamed protagonist that would do battle with them. However, when Valve enlisted focus groups and player testing, they discovered that just about everyone hated the idea and wanted to know where Chell and GLaDOS were. This prompted the team to change course and create a true sequel to Portal, but while the first game took place inbetween Half-Life 1 and 2, Portal 2 would take place 50,000 years into the future, with Chell being placed in suspended animation directly after the events of Portal. Upon reawakening, Chell finds herself in a dirty motel room, and after finding a way out, realizes that she is still at the Aperture Science facility. With the help of a little round robot named Wheatley (voiced by Stephen Merchant), Chell must once again use the portal gun to try and escape the facility, however, in their attempt to flee, Wheatley accidentally revives GLaDOS, who forces Chell to once again take part in grueling experiments. As the game progresses, Chell and Wheatley are able to take control of the facility away from GLaDOS and give it to Wheatley, who in turn, goes nuts and attempts to kill both Chell and GLaDOS by dropping them down a large elevator shaft. It is from here that the game takes yet another turn, with Chell and GLaDOS moving through several decades worth of offices and experiments at Aperture Science, with the company essentially building itself on top of its past failures. Along the way they learn about the history of the company through recordings left behind by Cave Johnson, and eventually learn about who GLaDOS really is. The story and writing are top notch, and helped usher in a new class of humor based games, with Wolpaw, Pinkerton, and Faliszek being praised and rewarded for their work.
Having seen success in the co-op genre with Left 4 Dead, Valve was also fully committed to giving Portal 2 a multi-player mode, but when they tested out having a second player move along with Chell it didn’t really come together, and subsequent efforts to create an in-game sport also failed, but it did show the team that people liked making portals for other people to travel through in order to reach far off areas, or to just fuck around with. From here the concept of the two robots, ATLUS and P-Body, was born. In co-op mode, players each have a portal gun and must use them to solve puzzles. Wolpaw described the idea as players solving a point & click adventure together, taking what was considered a solitary experience but allowing two people to work together to solve problems. The story is simple enough, GLaDOS is saddened that she no longer has any humans to experiment on, so she creates two robotic test subjects. At first she is amused, but becomes increasingly frustrated when she realizes that the robots can not die, taking out most of the fun. Instead she gets her jollies by trying to separate the two robots who have started to become increasingly fond of one another, making GLaDOS jealous. Eventually the two stumble upon a place called “The Vault”, a giant room at Aperture that is filled with humans who have been put into suspended animation, allowing GLaDOS to once again conduct her sinister experiments.
The reception to Portal 2 was near universal acclaim from critics, with many agreeing that it was one of the finest video games ever made. By year’s end, many outlets put Portal 2 on their top ten lists, and during awards season it would be nominated multiple times, winning several awards, including best PC game, best voice acting, and best writing, but it would often lose out on GOTY to Bethesda’s Skyrim. While critics where smitten with the game, some players were less than thrilled. With a completion time of around four hours for the single player campaign, the game was considered “too short”, and as for the co-op mode, “nobody plays co-op”, so there’s that. Expectations were also at a near fever pitch for Portal 2, which in the years before had spawned a massive amount of not only fan content, but also in an official comic from Valve. The most “hated” piece of pre-release marketing, however, was the Potato Sack A.R.G., in which clues were scattered through thirteen independent video games sold at a 75% discount on Valve’s Steam platform. Players poured through these, spending hours trying to decipher what it all meant, and in the end it was just, as any normal person would expect, a commercial for Portal 2, leading to the game being unlocked 10 hours earlier than expected on Steam. It was, essentially, a “be sure to drink your Ovaltine” that too many people put too much effort into, however a lucky few who solved the puzzles first did get flown out to Valve HQ in Seattle to play the game first. It was speculated that the Potato Sack led to some initial poor user scores on Metacritic, but overall it didn’t really do much, and Portal 2 is often considered a classic in video games. Oh, I didn’t even talk about the PS3 thing, this was a huge deal as well, it had a big E3 moment and everything. Yes, Portal 2 did come to the PS3, and it had cross play capabilities, AND if you bought the PS3 version you got a copy of the game for free on PC if you linked your Steam account to your PSN account. This was a big deal because just a couple years earlier, Valve co-founder Gabe Newell basically said the PS3 was worthless to Valve, and talked mad shit on the console; whoops! In the end, I believe Valve got fucked over on the deal, as Sony got a ton of free user data about Steam users, and Valve didn’t sell many copies of the game on PS3 (this is all hearsay, I couldn’t find any info on this, but I do remember reading something about it). Portal 2 is, currently, the last game in the series, with Vavle seemingly all in on the business side of things and abandoning its single player audience (Alyx aside). No next gen console ports were ever made (although it is backwards compatible on Xbox One/Series X|S), meaning the Steam version is the most widely available version of the game. I pretty much spoiled the entire game above, so I’m sorry if you haven’t played it, but still, if you’ve never fired up Portal 2 you should still give it a try! It really is one of the greatest video games ever made.
Kirby Tilt ‘n’ Tumble (Game Boy Color) – Released Apr. 11th, 2001: Wiki Link
Nintendo is well known for their innovations, however some might call them gimmicks. From ROB the robot, to the Super Scope 6, to Donkey Konga drums, to the Game Boy Camera, Nintendo is always trying to do something new with their games. 2001’s Kirby Tilt ‘n’ Tumble is just another in a long line of Nintendo gimmicks that tried to get players to think about more than just pressing buttons in video games. Using a series of accelerometers built into the cartridge, players must move Kirby by tilting and shaking their Game Boy Color, holding it horizontally, like a table, as they guide Kirby to the end of each level. It’s a unique and exciting concept, and you can see the seeds being planted for the Wii in titles like this, a console that would fully embrace motion controls. In fact, Sega’s Super Monkey Ball has a very similar play style to this game, and while its GameCube titles would use a controller, its Wii follow-ups would take advantage of the Wii Remote. Going back to Kirby, in Tilt ‘n’ Tumble you once again take on the role of everyone’s favorite pink fluff ball and move him…her…they around an obstacle course as you attempt to gather up all the stars in Dreamland that have been stolen by King Dedede. While there are enemies to deal with, the majority of the challenge comes from not falling off the edge of the stage, while also trying to finish the level before time runs out. Tilt ‘n’ Tumble is a fascinating title, and was well received by critics, with Game Informer calling it one of the best Game Boy games ever made in 2014. Other modern outlets begged to differ, as USGamer called it the worst Kirby spin-off ever made, adding that it was “awful“. I don’t really know how to approach this game today, myself. On the one hand, it is a really great, really challenging puzzle platformer that tests your reflexes and patience in surprising and fun ways, but because it is completely reliant on the built in accelerometers you can not play this on anything but a Game Boy Color or an original Game Boy Advance. Putting this in the GameCube’s GBA player is useless, and emulating the game is impossible, so hardly anybody will ever have the chance to experience this title. I was lucky enough to, 1. find a used copy (for $60 fucking dollars) and 2. still have a working Game Boy Color. I often bemoan the unavailability of a lot of older games in this column, but you can almost always find a way to emulate them on PC. Kirby Tilt ‘n’ Tumble is one of those rare titles that even emulation can’t preserve, and that’s a real shame, because unlike the people at USGamer, I found this game to be incredibly delightful.
Nobunaga’s Ambition II (NES) – Released Apr. 1991: Wiki Link
Developer Koei was well regarded in the PC gaming world for their (at the time) stellar strategy games Romance of the Three Kingdoms and Nobunaga’s Ambition. Subsequent ports to the NES were often touted in Nintendo Power magazine as some of the most well regarded games when it came to the “pro’s picks”, which in hindsight seems like the list of games that adults liked. Still, even today, I find these titles as confusing and esoteric as I did when I was ten, relying heavily on the tips from websites like GameFAQs just to learn what each menu item does. Still, these games were huge sellers in Japan, and the RPG genre was just starting to gain hold in the U.S., so Koei kept cranking these out for their few fans, and I think that’s pretty cool. We could have been getting new Ys games, or Fire Emblem’s, but no, it was these static screen strategy games that kept getting localized. Okay, so what’s new in NAII? Well… you now have generals that can lead your troops during battles, with over 400 real life samurai programmed into the game and two scenarios to play through (one pre-Nobunaga’s conquest and one post conquest). Combine this with cutting edge, 1991 NES graphics and you had a worthy successor to the first Nobunaga’s Ambition. I mostly include these as kind of cool little looks back on how modern series were just getting started, who would have thought that 30 years later we’d still play games about Nobunaga and his ambition; with our hands, like babies!
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