Things have been a bit crazy the last couple weeks in terms of big new releases so it is nice to have another small break from the madness. Still, that doesn’t mean we don’t have good stuff to play, as you’ll see coming up, one of the most acclaimed series in video games has gotten a new coat of paint and been remastered for modern consoles, that right folks,
Famicom Detective Club Mass Effect.
Mass Effect Legendary Edition (PC/PS4/Xbox One) – Releases May 14th
In 2007, developer Bioware, best known at the time for the Baldur’s Gate and Knight of the Old Republic series, released a brand new science fiction game on the Xbox 360 called Mass Effect. This new action RPG took elements from their previous titles to tell a gripping story about the protagonist Commander Shepard and his or her quest to unite several alien races in an attempt to thwart a galaxy wide catastrophe that threatens all organic life. It was a huge success, and after a buy out by EA, Bioware brought its follow-up title, Mass Effect 2, to all consoles, improving upon the original title in just about every way, making the series even more beloved than before. By its third entry, the series was at the height of its popularity, but a polarizing ending left some fans feeling let down that their choices throughout the entire series (many of which carried consequences all the way through to the third game) didn’t really affect the ending in any significant way. With the story of Commander Shepard reaching its conclusion, Bioware decided to restart the series with a new protagonist and crew, but when Mass Effect: Andromeda released in 2017 it was highly criticized for its many glaring bugs and glitches, and it’s dull storyline. For a while it seemed like Mass Effect was going to be one of those franchises we’d all look back on with fond memories and maybe fire up on PC every few years just to relive the experience, thankfully, with the release of the Legendary Edition, we won’t have to do that. Completely remastered in 4K with tweaked controls, this new version collects all three original Mass Effect titles, as well as all of its accompanying DLC, offering players hundreds of hours of content to sink their teeth into. With the promise of a new game that are more directly connected to the events of the original trilogy, this might be the first step into what I hope is another long string of hit Mass Effect titles.
Tanto Cuore (PC) – Releases May 11th
I couldn’t find a decent trailer so instead you can enjoy this 14 minute tutorial from recent YouTube Star Tournament finalist ProZD. Tanto Cuore is a deck building, card game where players, as the lord of a manor, must hire maids in an effort to gain the most points at the end of the game. It is sufficiently creepy, yet cute, and is highly reminiscent of the deck building game Dominion. As far as I can tell this is only the base game of Tanto Cuore and does not include any of its real life, stand-alone expansions, but if you dig it digitally you should try to find the physical game, including the expansion that introduces sexy butlers to go along with your sexy maids.
Famicom Detective Club – The Missing Heir & The Girl Who Stands Behind (Switch) – Releases May 14th
Originally released in 1988 and 1989 for the Japan only Family Computer Disk System, Famicom Detective Club was an early example of the visual novel genre. Inspired by Yuji Horii’s groundbreaking game The Portopia Serial Murder Case, Famicom Detective Club had players take on the role of a young detective who has lost his memory. Players would move around various locations, searching for clues and talking to people, piecing together why they have amnesia, and ultimately, solving the original case they were assigned. The game did very well in Japan, but was seen as too niche of a genre for Western audiences. A Super Famicom remake came out in 1997, and the game was ported to the Wii, Wii U, and 3DS virtual consoles, but still never making its way West, until now! After 33 years, players in the West will finally get a chance to experience Famicom Detective Club, but not in its 8-bit incarnation, but as a fully remade, modern title for the Nintendo Switch. With the rise in popularity of visual novels here in the West, it will be nice to see the genre’s origins for ourselves.
Subnautica: Below Zero (PC/PS4/PS5/Switch/Xbox One/Series X|S) – Releases May 14th
Survival and exploration games have been having a moment for the last few years, bolstered by titles like Rust and No Man’s Sky. The game Subnautica is another one of these survival games, but set underwater, where players must not only search for resources, but also avoid terrifying creatures. It’s these scary monsters that made the game a surprise hit on Twitch and YouTube, so those influencers must be pretty stoked that a brand new title is about to drop. Please like and subscribe to this column.
Assassin’s Creed Valhalla: Wrath of the Druids (PC/PS4/PS5/Xbox One/Series X|S) – Releases May 13th
This is also coming out.
Bibi & Tina At The Horse Farm (PS5) – Releases May 11th
Retro Machina (PC/PS4/Switch/Xbox One) – Releases May 12th
Hundred Days: Winemaking Simulator (PC/Stadia) – Releases May 13th
Subnautica (Switch) – Releases May 14th
Notable Releases from 10, 20 and 30 years ago:
L.A. Noire (PS3/Xbox 360) – Released May 17th, 2011: Wiki Link
Rockstar Games are mostly known for two franchises; Grand Theft Auto and Red Dead Redemption. However, they will occasionally branch out and do the odd one off title here and there; Bully, Manhunt, Table Tennis, games that fit their aesthetic but don’t quite fit into one of the boxes of their two most popular series. In 2011 we got what is, in my opinion, their best one-shot title, the brilliant L.A. Noire. Unlike the majority of their other games, L.A. Noire takes place in a real city, in our real world. Set in 1947 Los Angels, the game puts players into the shoes of a rookie police office named Cole Phelps. Starting out the game as a beat cop, these first few missions are, essentially, tutorials that teach you how you’ll be playing the entire game; searching crime scenes, solving minor puzzles, engaging in combat, and of course, interviewing witnesses and suspects. While L.A. Noire shares some similarities to GTA on its surface, driving around an open world, collecting items, doing side quests, the core gameplay of L.A. Noire is investigating crimes and talking to people. The game is probably most famous for its interviews, where players must view a witness/suspect’s facial expressions and body language to determine if they are telling the truth, if they are being suspicious and creating doubt, or if they are flat out lying. A correct guess will advance the investigation and may unlock more dialogue options or even solve the case much earlier than anticipated. If you guess wrong, however, you might miss out on interesting parts of the case, or even see your suspects walk free. These interviews are also well known because of how many famous faces pop up in the game. Protagonist Cole Phelps is played by Mad Men actor Aaron Stanton, and several character actors appear as well, including John Noble, Greg Grunberg, Kurt Fuller, Michael Gladis, Rich Sommer, and Vincent Kartheiser, just to name a few. The reason we have so many familiar faces in the game is that the developer, Team Bondi, used a brand new facial scan technology created by a company called Depth Analysis, where 32 cameras would be set up in a circle around the actor to capture every detail of their face. This resulted in highly accurate facial movements (key to the game’s interrogations) placed on not so accurate body animations, leading to some awkward looking stiffness. The entire development process of L.A. Noire was so extensive that it even has its own Wikipedia page, but development wasn’t just famous for being so revolutionary, it was also notorious for how Team Bondi treated its staff, and I’m sure you’ve heard similar stories to this one, it’s one of gaming’s biggest problems.
By 2011, the concept of video game crunch had only been on the mainstream radar for about seven years, after a 2004 blog post by game developer Erin Hoffman, known anonymously as “EA Spouse”. Her LiveJournal post about the working conditions at EA helped shine a light on a practice that had been an inherent part of the gaming industry since its early days; massive, unpaid overtime. Again in 2004, a survey by the International Game Developers Association, or IDGA, found that only 3% of respondents had never worked any overtime while in the video game industry, and of those that did work overtime, nearly half of them were not paid for it. I won’t go into it in much detail, I think many of us are aware of how bad crunch can be on the mental and physical health of game developers (in fact there’s a whole book about that is coming out soon, reviewed by our very own Singing Brakeman), but where this brings us to is the way that L.A. Noire was developed. Notoriously, it took Team Bondi seven years to make the game (starting right around the time crunch was becoming more well known), and not all of it was fun. After the release of L.A. Noire, a group of former employees created a website called L.A. Noire Credits, which featured the names of roughly 100 current and former Team Bondi employees whose names had either been left out of the credits or were misspelled. Like another recent Rockstar game, Red Dead Redemption 2, employees who left Team Bondi, or were fired, did not get credit for their work. That honor only went to the people who stayed with company until the game was released. Many anonymous staff at Team Bondi reached out to various online gaming outlets and message boards, talking negatively about their work on the project, citing long hours, poor working conditions, a hostile work environment, burn out, unpaid wages, and a high turnover rate. The allegations were so bad that it not only made Rockstar rethink their relationship with the studio (which seems a bit like the pot calling the kettle black), but also drew the ire of the IDGA, who investigated Team Bondi. The entire saga was well documented in an IGN Australia article by Andrew McMillen that I recommend giving a read when you have the chance.
Despite the controversy regarding the working conditions at Team Bondi, L.A. Noire received near universal acclaim from just about every major outlet, with a Metacritic average of 89 on PS3 and Xbox 360 (the PC port would get an 83 a few months later). Critics were highly impressed with the facial capture technology, with praise also being given to the seamless blending of action/adventure and classic point & click gameplay. Critics also dug the art direction, sound, and score, and many agreed that it was one of the most “grown-up/mature” Rockstar games ever made. Despite the praise there were a few things that critics, and players, didn’t like. While it was a unique choice to meld action and interactive storytelling, some people found the transition between the two mediums to be dull, with some players getting bored with the game rather quickly. It didn’t help that many of the cases are nearly identical, with the suspects being easily identifiable and puzzles sorely lacking in challenge. If you weren’t drawn in by the story then there wasn’t much else for you to do in L.A. Noire, because while the game seemed open world, you were basically confined to the case you were working on, with only a smattering of “side crimes” to solve that were, for the most part, just shooting galleries (40 in total, to be exact). Still, L.A. Noire was beloved enough that fans of the game would often inquire about a sequel, and while Rockstar, and parent company 2K, have said they are committed to the series and would like to revisit it someday, there’s currently nothing planned. Who knows when, or if, we’ll ever get a sequel to L.A. Noire, but if we don’t, the game is still good enough that it can stand on its own as a moving piece of art, even if we have to admit that it likely made a lot of people’s lives a living hell in the process.
The Legend of Zelda: Oracle of Ages & Oracle of Seasons (Game Boy Color) – Released May 14th, 2001: Wiki Link
The Legend of Zelda is one of Nintendo’s most prized franchises, with just about all of its entries being heralded as some of the all time greatest games ever made. It was surprising, then, in 2001, to see the series being handed off to a team outside of Nintendo, an independent studio called Flagship that was funded not just by Nintendo, but also their rivals Sega, as well as the third party studio Capcom. In fact, much of the team was comprised of former Capcom employees, and their studio had already worked on several games, including Resident Evil 2, Code Veronica, Dino Crisis 2, and Onimusha. The partnership came about in 1999 when Flagship’s founder Yoshiki Okamoto wanted to do a remake of the original Zelda for the Game Boy Color. When he pitched this idea to Zelda creator Shigeru Miyamoto he was very receptive to the idea, commissioning Flagship to create six Zelda games for the GBC; two remakes and four new games. Almost immediately the team ran into problems with the remake when they discovered that much of the original Zelda was considered too hard and confusing for younger players. In order to make the game easier, large sections of the map had to be reworked or removed, causing the game to look less and less like the original. Seeing this happen in real time, the game’s director Hidemaro Fujibayashi asked that they scrap the remake and focus on creating an entirely new game and scenario. When they brought this idea forward to Miyamoto, he proposed creating a trilogy of games based on the Tri-Force that would all be released within a short period of time. Miyamoto then suggested that all three could be interconnected, not unlike what Game Freak did with Nintendo’s newest property, Pokémon. With this new directive, the team at Flagship came up with three scenarios, one involving seasons, one involving color, and one involving the day & night cycle. However, this trilogy appeared to be tougher to pull together than expected, and the games were delayed, then when it started to become increasingly clear that the limitations of the GBC were going to be a tough hurdle to get over, Miyamoto recommended that the team scale down to just two games with a simultaneous release. Flagship took his advice and focused on the season game, now called Oracle of Seasons, and the color puzzle game, now called Oracle of Ages.
Like its earlier 2D versions, Oracle of Ages/Seasons was played in a top down view, with Link exploring an overworld map as he searches for McGuffin’s in a multitude of underground dungeons. Unlike Pokémon Red and Blue, the two Zelda titles were completely different games with their own map and dungeons. This made owning both a must have, as you wouldn’t be able to experience the full story if you only had one. Each title even focused on different gameplay styles, with Seasons being heavily focused on combat and Ages being heavily focused on puzzle solving. Similar to Link to the Past and Ocarina of Time, each game had a mechanic that would change the overworld map in significant ways. In Seasons, Link can use the Rod of Seasons to change the game’s current season, making certain areas of the map accessible, for example, during the Fall that wouldn’t be available in the Summer. Likewise, in Ages, Link uses the Harp of Ages to travel between two different time periods that would, again, affect travel to different parts of the map. Between Ages and Seasons, there was no “correct” order in which to play the games, the developers made sure that each game had various pieces of dialog and plot points that would only appear if you played it first or second. This was made possible with a password system, allowing players to not just change the story slightly, but also obtain special items, including a vast array of rings that Link could wear to gain additional stat boosts. After completing both games, players would then be able to access the final battle against the “real” boss, Twinrova, as well as, of course, Gannon. The games were both critical and commercial successes, selling nearly four million copies each over their entire print run. Since its release, both titles have been regularly cited as two of the best games ever released for the Game Boy Color, with critics particularly enthralled with its graphics, and highly impressed with its world building. Flagship would go on to develop two more Zelda games for the Game Boy Advance, a remake of A Link to the Past as well as the original title The Minish Cap, before moving onto the Kirby franchise, and then ultimately being reabsorbed back into Capcom. The Oracle games wouldn’t be given much thought over the years at Nintendo, sadly, but in 2013 it was finally released on the 3DS’ Virtual Console service, to much rejoicing. Oracle of Ages & Seasons are two fantastic entries in the Zelda franchise, and if you haven’t ever given these titles a look I would strongly suggest you try them out, I don’t think you’ll be disappointed.
Bonanza Bros. (Genesis) – Released May 16th, 1991: Wiki Link
Originally released to arcades in June of 1990, Sega’s Bonanza Bros. was another in a long line of early arcade ports for the fledgling Genesis. With Sonic the Hedgehog still a few weeks away, Bonanza Bros. was one of the most colorful and cutesy games on the system at the time, with a fun and funky vibe that has aged surprisingly well. In Bonanza Bros., players must explore a variety of buildings in an effort to steal a set number of items before reaching the roof where they escape into a hot air balloon, or dirigible, or something. In Japan, the two main characters, Robo and Mobo, are thieves who are doing what thieves to best; steal shit. In the West, however, we were a bit more sensitive, so Robo and Mobo were instead two crooks hired by the police to conduct a series of mock break-in’s designed to test the integrity of their security systems. Like most arcade games, Bonanza Bros. is way too hard to play for a long period of time, with deaths coming quickly and the controls being purposefully fucked up. The game can be played in co-op, but the players share a set of lives, making the game much shorter if you have a terrible partner. Like a lot of Sega produced Genesis games, Bonanza Bros. has appeared in multiple compilations and stand-alone releases, and was most recently seen in the Sega Genesis Classics Collection. The Genesis was still trying to figure out its footing in early 1991, but that was all about to change thanks to the fastest Hedgehog the world had ever seen. Find out more the week of June 22nd…
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