It’s a new release showdown this week between two long awaited sequels from two of gaming’s most notable auteurs; Tim Schafer & Double Fine’s Psychonauts 2 and Suda 51 & Grasshopper Manufacture’s No More Heroes III. Who will be the king of the Summer? Will they both live up to the hype? Will Microsoft force Tim Schafer out and strip mine Double Fine if Psychonauts 2 doesn’t perform well? Will Psychonauts 2 be king? Will No More Heroes III be queen? Will anything drive these two developers away? Will you play them both, or just one game? Will you be a hero, and play both for more than one day?
Psychonauts 2 (PC/PS4/Xbox One/Series X|S) – Releases Aug. 25th
After leaving Lucasarts in the year 2000, game developer Tim Schafer started his own company, calling it Double Fine. Their first game, released in 2005, was a 3D platformer called Psychonauts. It was the story of a young boy named Raz who goes to a summer camp for kids with psychic powers. While at camp, Raz and his friends hone their skills and gain control over their powers in an attempt to join the ranks of the elite group known as Psychonauts. Aside from the 3D platforming elements, Schafer also brought along some of the puzzle solving and humor that he employed so well in his Lucasarts games. It was a critical success, but audiences rejected the game outright, making it out to be a colossal flop. Still, the game’s fans were rabid, and through word-of-mouth, Psychonauts eventually turned into a cult classic, and after an updated re-release in 2011, sales took off, finally pushing the game past 1 million units sold, after only selling roughly 500k units in the six years before the re-release. Fans and critics would often ask Schafer if he ever planned to do a sequel, but his response was often that he would like to, but nobody would publish it, or at least not give Double Fine enough money to do it at the scale they wanted to. Finally, though, in December of 2015, Schafer announced that they were making Psychonauts 2, with funding from Double Fine, outside business partners, and crowdsourcing through a new platform called Fig. Initially set for a 2019 release, the game would be delayed to 2020, only to have it delayed further due to the worldwide pandemic. Now, though, sixteen years later, players will finally be able to play in a brand new adventure as Raz, diving deep into the minds of people, collecting figments of their imagination, helping to clear their emotional baggage, and smacking Censors in the face. Are you excited? I’m excited!
No More Heroes III (Switch) – Releases Aug. 27th
It’s been eleven years since No More Heroes 2: Desperate Struggle (two since Travis Strikes Again), but as series protagonist Travis Touchdown might say, “It’s called fashionably late, fuckface“. From off the wall game developer Suda 51 comes the third (or fourth) game in his No More Heroes franchise. Travis Touchdown is back for more brutal mayhem, but instead of working his way up the assassin leaderboard, Travis must save the world from an alien invasion, by working his way up the superhero leaderboard; totally different. Get ready to wiggle your Joy-Con around, or use the pro controller like some dork, as you explore the city of Santa Destroy, doing odd jobs and buying sweet t-shirts. Don’t forget to save by sitting on the toilet.
Aliens: Fireteam Elite (PC/PS4/PS5/Xbox One/Series X|S) – Releases Aug. 24th
Get ready to grab
three two friends and hunt some bugs in the co-op shooter Aliens: Fireteam Elite. In looking up info on the game I came across this paragraph on Wikipedia that made my head hurt:
“Cold Iron Studios was founded in 2015 by the team which had created games including City of Heroes and Star Trek Online. It was acquired by FoxNext Games in March 2019. FoxNext was a mobile game publisher, and intended to use Cold Iron’s new Aliens game to expand its portfolio to include larger scale Triple A projects. FoxNext was later acquired by Disney, which sold off the studio to Scopely, which then subsequently sold Cold Iron to Daybreak Game Company.“
Hoa (PC/PS4/PS5/Switch/Xbox One/Series X|S) – Releases Aug. 24th
The hot new buzz-phrase in gaming is “wholesome games“, and in a week with a bunch of high profile, arguably angry and intense, games coming out, to have a game that is quiet and calm is a welcome treat. In Hoa, players will go on a relaxing adventure, meeting cute animals and solving puzzles as they take in the beautiful hand painted scenery and tranquil soundtrack. I’m getting sleepy just writing this, better save on the toilet.
King’s Bounty II (PC/PS4/Switch/Xbox One) – Releases Aug. 24th
Speaking of long awaited sequels, the first King’s Bounty game released on PC way back in 1990, when the idea of the year 2021 was a world full of flying cars and teenagers wearing their pants pockets inside out. While the trailer seems to make this look like an Elder Scrolls style RPG, the game is actually a tactical RPG, similar to Fire Emblem. This has me much more interested in the game than I was before, hopefully the reviews are good.
My good buddy Victor gave me some more background on this game and series: “Probably worth mentioning King’s Bounty II is following up the series of games that started in 2008 with King’s Bounty: The Legend. Original King’s Bounty basically became the Heroes of Might and Magic series by New World Computing (eventually purchased by 3do). When 3do fell apart Ubisoft picked up Might & Magic and 1C Entertainment picked up King’s Bounty. 1C basically made five standalone campaigns under the King’s Bounty title, and they are making the new game as well. Side note: Heroes of Might & Magic Quest for the Dragon Bone Staff was a remake of King’s Bounty for the PlayStation 2.“
Baldo: The Guardian Owls (Apple Arcade/PC/PS4/Switch/Xbox One) – Releases Aug. 27th
While this game might look like a Studio Ghibli creation, it was actually made by an Italian company called Naps Team, best known for the Gekkido series of games. Their latest game, Baldo: The Guardian Owls, is a Zelda-style hack and slash game that, as I mentioned, has visuals that are strongly influenced by the films of Studio Ghibli. Will Baldo’s gameplay come close to matching the high level of excellence of its inspirations, or will it just be a pretty coat of paint on a lackluster game. I guess we’ll see.
Ports and Re-releases:
Sniper Ghost Warrior Contracts 2 (PS5) – Releases Aug. 24th
Get up, come on, get down with the sickness…on PS5.
Myst (PC – VR compatible/Xbox One/Series X|S) – Releases Aug. 26th
Get ready to be bored AF in VR.
Spelunky & Spelunky 2 (Switch) – Releases Aug. 26th
Sometimes you just assume a game is on a particular platform, and up until today you could have probably bet me a million dollars that Spelunky and its sequel were already on the Switch and I would have accepted. Well, now I know, so you can’t bet me, okay! You lost! Get over it! What? Fuck me? No, no, fuck YOU, pal. Yeah right, what are you gonna do, assho-? Oww!
Tropico 6 – Festival (PC/PS4/Xbox One) – Releases Aug. 26th
What better way to make people forget they’re being subjugated then by throwing a huge party for them! Fight against “The Boredom”, and keep your people from falling into an even bigger depression filled anguish than they already are. I mean, it’s not like you want them to have a bunch of free time to figure out how to start a revolution and overthrow you, right?
Behind the Frame: The Finest Scenery (PC) – Releases Aug. 25th
Darker Skies (Xbox One/Series X|S) – Releases Aug. 25th
Murder Mystery Machine (PC/PS4/Switch/Xbox One) – Releases Aug. 25th
Tormented Souls (PC/PS5/Series X|S) – Releases Aug. 27th
Notable Releases from 10, 20 and 30 years ago:
Rock of Ages (Xbox 360) – Released Aug. 31st, 2011: Wiki Link
By 2011, small games from independent developers were starting to fill up Steam, Nintendo’s Wii Ware shop, and the PlayStation Store, but it always seemed like the best games came to the Xbox Live Marketplace first. One of those was the second game from Chilean developer ACE Team, Rock of Ages, a quirky tower defense title. Taking on the role of Sisyphus from Greek mythology, Rock of Ages turns the myth on its head, having players roll a giant stone ball DOWN a hill instead of rolling it up. Presenting each stage as a head to head challenge against another famous character from Greek mythology, players will control their giant stone ball as it rolls down the hill towards their opponents base, all the while they must dodge obstacles, lest their ball becomes damaged and either crumble before it reaches the end, or fails to inflict its full damage potential. As the game progresses, Sisyphus leaves the era of Greek mythology and finds himself in the Medieval age, eventually progressing to the Renaissance, the Rococo period, and finally ending in the era of Romanticism. The game has plenty of pop culture references, including nods to the films 300 and The Matrix, and takes some major inspiration from Terry Gilliam’s art style on Monty Python’s Flying Circus. Critics seemed to react positively towards the game, however it did receive, according to Metacritic, “mixed/average” reviews. The critics that loved the game were really impressed with ACE Team’s fresh take on the tower defense genre, likening the game to something like Marble Madness or Super Monkey Ball, while those who were less enthused about the game were quick to note that Rock of Ages become rather stale and repetitive very quickly. The game does try to liven things up by adding in new units and obstacles to place along the path in order to stall your opponent, but they seemed to think this wasn’t really enough to change the gameplay all that much from the opening levels. One thing all critics could agree on was that the art style and humor were fantastic. After Rock of Ages, ACE Team focused on a sequel to their popular Zeno Clash game, and then released two original games, Abyss Odyssey and The Deadly Tower of Monsters, before finally releasing Rock of Ages 2 in 2017, and then Rock of Ages 3 in 2020. Rock of Ages is still very easy to get ahold of through digital storefronts, but it is surprisingly not backwards compatible with the Xbox One/Series X|S. I recommend giving the game a try, even if its one of the later entries, it’s a real blast.
Mario Kart: Super Circuit (Game Boy Advance) – Released Aug. 27th, 2001: Wiki Link
After the release of the Game Boy Advance in North America on June 11th, the new handheld hadn’t really received a major new release since its debut. However, that all changed in August of 2001 when Nintendo released Mario Kart: Super Circuit, the third game in the series and its first for a handheld. While the first two games on the SNES and N64 had been developed by Nintendo EAD, Super Circuit was handled by Intelligent Systems who are most famously known for the Fire Emblem series, but who had also developed, or helped develop, several other Nintendo classics, including Metroid, Duck Hunt, SimCity, Mario Paint, and of course, Paper Mario. In terms of gameplay, Super Circuit was nearly identical to the previous entries, with players racing through 20 courses, spread out over five cups. If you score enough points by placing 1st through 4th, you will be awarded a bronze, silver, or gold trophy. I mean, do I really need to explain Mario Kart to anyone? It’s a massively popular video game franchise, in fact, Super Circuit is the best selling non-Pokémon game on the GBA, with roughly 5.9 million copies sold worldwide. Super Circuit didn’t really add anything new to the franchise, sticking with the same racers as Mario Kart 64, and keeping most of the items from the first two games. However, one neat addition is that all of the tracks from Super Mario Kart are available in the game, essentially giving players two games on one cartridge. Unlocking them was a bit convoluted, though. First, players would need to unlock the Special Cup in each engine class, then they would need to get Gold in each engine class’ Special Cup, THEN they would have to go back and complete each cup, in each engine class, all while also collecting 100 coins IN EACH CUP. When the game released it was immediately embraced by players and critics who hailed it as one of the best games of the year and the GBA’s first killer app. Some critics lamented that Super Circuit wasn’t a launch title, but were relieved they only had to wait two months for it to come out. By year’s end, Mario Kart: Super Circuit would be nominated for a BAFTA and an Interactive Achievement Award (D.I.C.E. Award), and would go on to win a Blimp Award from the Nickelodeon Kid’s Choice Award as “Favorite Video Game“, so pretty high praise there. While you can still likely find used copies of the original game floating around retro game shops, Super Circuit is available digitally on the Wii U’s Virtual Console, and since Nintendo seems to hate money, it is still not available on the Switch. Maybe one day they’ll figure it out, but until then I’ll just play my original copy on my DS Lite.
Ninja Gaiden III: The Ancient Ship of Doom (NES) – Released Aug. 15th, 1991: Wiki Link
In 1991, Tecmo’s Ninja Gaiden franchise would make its final appearance on the NES with the fantastic, but incredibly difficult, Ninja Gaiden III: The Ancient Ship of Doom. Despite the release of the Super Nintendo, the NES was still the dominant video game system in most of the world, so it should be no surprise that game companies would still support the machine, particularly third party developers. Set between Ninja Gaiden and its sequel The Dark Sword of Chaos, players are treated to an opening cut scene of Irene, a major character in the franchise, being attacked by Ryu as she stands near a cliff edge. The cliff gives way and Irene plunges to her (presumed) death into the waters below, with Ryu fingered as the killer. Denying his involvement in her death, Ryu heads off on another adventure, fighting mutated creatures, robotic assassins, and other beasts as he tries to clear his name and find out just who killed Irene. In typical Ninja Gaiden fashion, the story is bonkers, with interdimensional portals, super human bio-noids that can shape shift, and of course the Ancient Ship of Doom, a powerful vehicle from another dimension that can wipe out humanity. In terms of gameplay, Ninja Gaiden III actually does feature a few updates, the most game changing being the ability for Ryu to hang onto horizontal platforms, usually in the shape of pipes or cliffside ledges. In an effort to make the game easier, players are not knocked back as far when they get hit by enemies, and powerups are now visible in their containers before you hit them, ensuring you can always keep your favorite sub weapon. Tecmo was very conscious about difficulty in this game, and based on player feedback they toned the game down significantly…in Japan. When the game made its way to the U.S. it was, for some reason (probably because of rentals), made significantly harder. The amount of damage enemies delivered to Ryu was increased and the number of enemies in general was also increased. As for your progress, the number of continues that you were given was drastically cut, and a password system that was implemented in the Japanese release was omitted from the U.S. release, making Ninja Gaiden III one of the hardest games on the NES. Still, this increased difficulty did not stop critics and players from calling it one of the best NES games of the year, with the game nominated in three categories in the 1991 Nintendo Power Awards, winning “Most Challenging” and coming in third for “Best Overall NES Game“, behind Tecmo Super Bowl at 2 and Battletoads at 1. Ninja Gaiden III would be re-released on the Super Nintendo as part of the Ninja Gaiden Trilogy, with the difficulty returned to its Japanese setting, however, it suffered from terrible frame rate issues. The U.S. NES version would eventually make it to the Wii U’s Virtual Console as a digital release, prompting modern critics to reexamine the game, with most coming to the conclusion that it is not a very good game, citing the incredible difficulty as the main reason, while a few other thought the story was just too ridiculous. Ninja Gaiden III is hard, really hard, and I had a really tough time playing it this past weekend. Even with the Wii U’s save state feature, I just couldn’t get past the third boss, and I doubt I ever will. Does this mean you should pass on it? That’s tough to say. I certainly like the first two games better, but Ninja Gaiden III is still just as good, gameplay wise (often better), so owning it isn’t a terrible thing. Just know going in that you’re in for a rough time.
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