We’ve got a big sequel, a big new IP, a couple big remakes/ports, and a big indie title. There’s something for everybody this week, I mean, unless you don’t like video games. Why would you even read this column if you didn’t like video games? What, you fell asleep on the bus and ended up here by mistake? That doesn’t make any sense, this is an online blog, not a physical location. What do you mean I don’t know what I’m talking about? WHAT?! I’m so confused, what is happening? Where am I? I’m tired.
Lost Judgement (PS4/PS5/Xbox One/Series X|S) – Releases Sep. 24th
Following the, er, retirement, I guess, of Kazuma Kiryu from the Yakuza games, the franchise has split itself into two. The mainline Yakuza series, with Like A Dragon, veered into the turn based RPG genre, and retained all of the wacky and zany aspects of Yakuza but lost some of its seriousness. Its sister series, Judgement, retained the brawler style gameplay and it’s more serious side, but it sacrificed a lot of the more outlandish and silly elements. Anyone who thought Ra Ga Gotoku Studio might get more lighthearted in its sequel, Lost Judgement, will likely be a bit disappointed since the plot of this game looks incredibly dark and grim. When the Chief of the Metropolitan Police Department, Akihiro Ehara, is tried and convicted of molesting a girl on a train, he reveals the location of a mutilated corpse (for some reason). Stalwart private detective Takayuki Yagami is hired by his former colleague Saori Shirosaki to investigate Ehara’s possible involvement, putting Tak into yet another situation that his him tied up in both the worlds of the Yakuza and the MPD. Just in case you need a break from the heavy story elements, Tak will again be able to partake in a multitude of side activities, including boxing, auto racing, skateboarding, robot building/fighting, and of course classic video games. This time around players will be able to enjoy a slew of Sega Master System titles; Alex Kidd in Miracle World, Fantasy Zone, Penguin Land, Quartet, Enduro Racer, Woody Pop, Maze Hunter 3-D and Secret Command. One thing to keep in mind, this could potentially be the last game in the series as the talent agency for Takuya Kimura, the face/voice actor of protagonist Takayuki Yagami, has (supposedly) demanded that Sega not release Lost Judgement, and any future games in the franchise, on PC. This is a no-go for Sega as they view the PC market as key to their financial success. With Kimura being one of the biggest stars in all of Japan it’s hard to say what RGG Studio would do if his talent agency refuses to let him be in any more Judgement games. Would they replace him, start a new franchise, move the brawling back to the Yakuza series, or abandon the brawler altogether? Maybe they’ll just replace the actor with someone who looks like Tom Holland, his face is better suited for 4K anyway.
Kena: Bridge of Spirits (PC/PS4/PS5) – Releases Sep. 21st
Seemingly coming out of nowhere, Kena: Bridge of Spirits has taken the gaming world by storm with it’s gorgeous trailers and promise of a rich world to explore. Still, while the game is probably one of the most anticipated of the year, it is coming to us with no track record. This is the first game from developer Ember Lab which have previously done animation for commercials, and worked on a few licensed apps. Kena is their big test, and while they’ve done an incredible job making their game look good, we haven’t really seen if the gameplay is good. Yes, there have been public demos, and Forbes is currently singing its praises, but there hasn’t been a major deep dive review on the game yet (at least not as I write this on Sunday). From what we do know about the game, previews have shown that the game contains elements of The Legend of Zelda and Pikmin, with visuals that rival a Pixar film. Will Kena be another Biomutant, visually stunning but not much fun to play? We’ll soon find out.
Scores are coming in and, well, it looks like Kena is a critical smash:
Diablo II: Ressurected (PC/PS4/PS5/Switch/Xbox One/Series X|S) – Releases Sep. 23rd
The all-time classic Diablo II is back with a beautiful new remake. The game remains largely the same, with no major changes to the gameplay, with only a few quality of life improvements such as automatic gold pickup and the ability to easily transfer items between characters. Veteran players will even have the ability to transfer their save data from the original Diablo II into Resurrected, letting you continue to play as the same Paladin you’ve been using since 2000; you can cleanse this wilderness!
Sable (PC/Xbox One/Series X|S) – Releases Sep. 23rd
*ALERT!! XBOX CONSOLE EXCLUSIVE!! ALERT!!*
Another hotly anticipated indie title from a first time studio is the, again, gorgeous looking Sable. Like Kena, this game features stunning visuals that have been feeding player’s imaginations, yet we don’t really have any major feel for its gameplay. Described as an open world adventure, players must guide the protagonist Sable across a desolate wasteland as she embarks on a rite-of-passage quest to retrieve a mask. With less of a focus on combat, and more of a focus on puzzle solving, Sable is more about chilling and enjoying yourself, ya know? Just blaze up a fattie and take in the very Moebius-esque setting.
Death Stranding: Director’s Cut (PS5) – Releases Sep. 24th
Being a father didn’t make me scared, it made me brave.
Ports and Re-releases:
Dragon Ball Z: Kakarot (Switch) – Releases Sep. 24th
Play through the entire Dragon Ball Z series as well as some of the events from Dragon Ball Super, which features my favorite character Lord Beerus.
A new Addams Family game is a welcome sight with October and Halloween just around the corner (as well as their new film), but if you want your horror to be a bit more adult then we’ve also got World War Z: Aftermath. Looking for another pretty looking indie title, something considered “wholesome”, then check out Teacup. Other than that, the band Saliva apparently have a new racing game:
- Sheltered 2 (PC) – Releases Sep. 21st
- Street Outlaws 2: Winner Takes All (PS4/PS5/Switch/Xbox One/Series X|S) – Releases Sep. 21st
- World War Z: Aftermath (PC/PS4/Xbox One/Series X|S) – Releases Sep. 21st
- Embr (PC/PS4/Switch/Xbox One) – Releases Sep. 23rd
- Teacup (PC/PS4/PS5/Switch/Xbox One/Series X|S) – Releases Sep. 23rd
- The Addams Family: Mansion Mayhem (PC/PS4/Switch/Xbox One) – Releases Sep. 24th
- Blind Postman (PC/Switch/Xbox One) – Releases Sep. 24th
Notable Releases from 10, 20 and 30 (and sometimes 40) years ago:
Atelier Totori: The Adventurer of Arland (PS3) – Released Sep. 27th, 2011: Wiki Link
Japanese developer Gust’s Atelier series is one of those franchises that has kind of flown under the radar for most of its run, only to be recently discovered by the more mainstream gaming community in recent years. Atelier Totori is the twelfth game in the series (7th to be released West), and the second title in the Arland trilogy, being the direct sequel to Atellier Rorona. Set five years after the events of Rorona, Aterlier Totori finds Rorona’s apprentice Totori ready to become an Adventurer and travel the world. However, Totori’s sister, Cecilia, and father, Guid, are concerned about this because her mother was one of the first Adventurer’s in Arland, meeting an untimely demise. While Cecilia and Guid have accepted that she’s dead, Totori holds out hope that she’s still alive, believing that if she can find her mother if she becomes an Adventurer and is allowed to travel the world. This setup is the catalyst that drives the main story of the game that, for the most part, plays exactly like all of its previous entries. Players travel around a world map collecting ingredients and fighting monsters in a turn based, RPG fashion, before going back to their atelier to craft items, weapons, and armor. The game fared well with critics who called it addictive, with nice, gentle combat and a story that, while not as epic as other RPGs, was still engaging and full of many tender moments. The game sold well enough, I suppose, mostly to fans of the series, with around 430k units sold world wide (with an additional 90k sold on the Vita). While PS3 and Vita copies are a bit harder to come by, you can easily pick the game up on PC, PS4, and Switch either physically or through their respective digital storefronts. I think it’s a bit hard for me to judge this game since I’ve only played Atelier Ryza, but from the few hours I’ve put into Totori I’ve noticed that not a whole lot has changed over the years. You’re still a young woman, you’re still an alchemist, you still collect ingredients, you still take on small jobs, you still have an overbearing family, it’s all pretty much the same. The key thing, however, is that it’s still fun to play. I mean, going out into the wilderness to pick flowers sounds tedious, but I’d do this for hours (and have). There are minor differences in quality of life and graphics that separate both Totori and Ryza, there’s some things I think Totori does better and some I think Ryza does better. If you do decide to play this game then you might want to look at Atelier Rorona first, but it isn’t fully necessary in order to enjoy Totori. Let’s get to crafting!
Silent Hill 2 (PS2) – Released Sep. 24th, 2001: Wiki Link
I’ve talked about a lot of video games in this column over the last three years, most of the time they’re good and sometimes they’re bad. However, every so often that I get to really dive into something that has had a profound impact on me, games that have changed who I am, how I think, and what my world view is. Silent Hill 2 is one of those games. Released in the U.S. on September 24th, 2001, Silent Hill 2 is a masterpiece, considered by many gaming outlets to be the pinnacle of artistic achievement in video games and is regularly brought up as the prime example of video games as an art form. Development of the game began immediately after the completion of the first Silent Hill, with the game’s story being heavily influenced by the novel Crime & Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky. With a team of roughly 50 people, including director Masashi Tsuboyama, producer Takayuki Kobyashi, artist Masahiro Ito, writer Hiroyuki Owaku, and composer Akira Yamaoka, the crew, dubbed Team Silent, were driven to make a game that improved on the original, opting to go with the PS2 as it offered creative freedom than the PSX, as well as being a more financially opportune console. There were early talks to have the game release on the GameCube and Xbox, but both of those were still in early development and Team Silent did not want to wait for those to be ready (though it did eventually come to Xbox in 2001/2002). Silent Hill 2, while a sequel, is not directly tied to the characters or events from the first game. Gone are Harry Mason, his daughter Cheryl, and officer Cybil. Instead, players take on the role of James Sunderland who has been called to the town of Silent Hill through a letter he recently received from his wife Mary, who died three years earlier. Even though James knows this is impossible, he still sets out to Silent Hill looking for answers and, just maybe, to see his wife again. As he enters town, James meets a young woman named woman named Angela who warns him that Silent Hill is dangerous and, he he heads in further, James discovers that the streets are filled with monsters. As he continues his journey he comes across three more people; Eddie Dombrowski, a teenage runaway with a short temper, Laura, a mean spirited eight-year old girl, and Maria, a beautiful femme fatale that bears a striking resemblance to his deceased wife Mary. As the game progresses you start to discover more about the backstory of each of these characters, as well as James, culminating in a gut wrenching, heart breaking finale that you have to experience on your own.
As a player, I don’t think I’ve ever been as terrified as I have during my first playthrough of Silent Hill 2, and it’s all thanks to one character; Pyramid Head. While Silent Hill 2 has a gallery of terrifying creatures and bosses to harass James, the most horrifying of all is the tall, muscular, burlap sack clad titan who carries a giant knife and wears a massive metal pyramid mask. James first encounters this horror while making his way through a large apartment complex, watching in disgust as Pyramid Head appears to be engaged in sexual intercourse with one of the Mannequin creatures (comprised of two sets of female legs joined at the lower torso) that fill Silent Hill. Subsequent encounters also feature Pyramid Head engaged in oral sex, giving the character a sexual energy that is meant to both disgust and titillate James. Most areas will conclude with some kind of encounter with Pyramid Head, indicating that you are moving onto a new chapter in the game, and if you’re not careful you can easily be killed by him. The game is generally at its most tense and nerve-racking when Pyramid Head is there, and while he isn’t as tough to deal with as, say, Mr. X in Resident Evil 2, he is far more scary (to me at least). While the story was inspired by Crime & Punishment, the look and tone of the game was inspired by film directors David Cronenberg, David Fincher, David Lynch, and Alfred Hitchcock, as well as the Adrian Lyne film Jacob’s Ladder. After two years of development, Silent Hill 2 was ready for release.
Releasing in the U.S. first, Silent Hill 2 would come out in Japan and Europe in the following days, selling over one million copies across all three regions in a single month. Critics were blown away by the game, giving Silent Hill 2 some of the best reviews of the year, even receiving IGN’s Editor’s Choice Award. Critics praised the game for its dark, psychological story, its design & graphics, and of course its music. Some critics were still put off by the tank controls and semi-fixed camera, however they did note that players had much more freedom with camera movements than they did in the first game, and far more movement than they did in Resident Evil. While the game failed to gain any attention at the Interactive Achievement Awards (now the D.I.C.E. Awards) that year, the game has since appeared on numerous “best of” lists. IGN called it one of the twelve greatest PS2 games of all time, as well as one of the 100 best video games of all time. Games Radar said it was one of the top 15 video game stories of all time, G4 placed it 85th on the list of greatest games ever made, and Game Informer placed it 2nd in its list of scariest video games of all time. If you want to play Silent Hill 2 today, well, your options are a bit limited. Despite all of its accolades, Silent Hill is a franchise owned by Konami, a company that, over the last few years, has famously shunned its back catalog. Aside from the original PS2 and Xbox releases, the most recent version of Silent Hill 2 is only available on the PS3 and Xbox 360 as part of an HD collection with Silent Hill 3. That might sound great, except there are well known, game breaking bugs and issues with that release. The problems are so awful, it seems, that a patch for the Xbox 360 version was never completed due to what was seen as, essentially, an unfixable game. The good news, though, is that I spent the last couple of nights playing Silent Hill 2 on my Xbox Series X through backwards compatibility and, aside from one instance of the game crashing, I haven’t had any trouble with it in my roughly 5 hours of gameplay, or a little more than half way through, so maybe give it a chance if you want to experience it.
Here on The Avocado there is a great column called Post Millennial Malaise that discusses films released after 9/11, and with Silent Hill 2 coming out just 13 days after that tragic event, it’s themes of loss, confusion, guilt, and anger resonated with me in a very raw way at that time. There were a trifecta of important games that guided me through that post-9/11 haze; Silent Hill 2, Grand Theft Auto III and Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty. As I’ve looked back at all of these game released over the last 40 years, I consider myself incredibly lucky to have been born when I was. It’s not like people can’t still experience these games (and I strongly encourage you to do so), but being there when they’re fresh, seeing how they influenced future titles, has been an real treat. Thank you for continuing to come here every week to talk about these games with me, I don’t take it for granted.
Road Rash (Genesis) – Released Sep. 1991: Wiki Link
EA’s Road Rash is a motorcycle racing game that incorporates elements of combat, allowing players to knock over their opponents in a bid to gain advantage in their placing. Set in the state of California, the game takes players all the way from the Palm Desert in the South to the Redwood forests in the North. Being a California native myself, I thought it was pretty neat to see places that, while not exactly accurate, were decent representations of the kinds of stuff you see when taking long road trips in the state. Initial development on the game started just as EA was beginning to experiment with in-house development. Being mostly a publisher for most of its life, the first self-developed games at EA were sports and racing titles, including what was, at the time, an NES game called Mario Andretti Racing. The game’s producer and developer, Randy Breen, had just finished making another racing game, Indianapolis 500: The Simulation, and was really bored and turned off by the realism that was required of the game. In an effort to change things up, Breen decided to go for something a bit more arcade-like, and began work on a motorcycle racing game that he thought could give him the same thrills and chills he got as he rode through the winding streets of the Hollywood Hills. Remembering that he would often think to himself, “Man, if you wiped out here, you’d get some serious road rash“, as he traveled down Mulholland Drive, the title of the game suddenly hit him, Road Rash on Mulholland Drive. Breen pitched his idea to the EA brass and they gave the greenlight. Shortly after development started the title would be shortened to just Road Rash and the team would move the game from the NES to the Sega Genesis, allowing them greater power to make a more immersive game. The major programming was done by a man named Dan Geisler who had joined the team after making another racing title called Vette! for Spectrum Holobyte. Geisler was very impressed with the memory capacity of the Genesis and claimed that it had enough space to allow him to recreate the entire California coast if he wanted to. During the 1990 CES show, EA decided to show an early build of the game to the general public. The sentiment among the EA staff and show patrons was that the game looked nice but was kind of boring. Internally, Road Rash was mockingly called, “Breen’s Sunday Drive“, something had to change.
With Road Rash on the verge of cancellation, the game’s other lead programmer, Carl Mey, requested that he be made a producer and given stronger creative control to make sure the game “kicked ass”. The big problem, Mey thought, was that Road Rash was just another boring simulation game where players would obey the speed limit and traffic laws as they cruised around the California highway. This did not go over well with Breen who thought the game was straying too far from his original vision, but EA didn’t care, they wanted Road Rash to be a hit and “Breen’s Sunday Drive” wasn’t going to sell. The racers were given on-screen names and would talk to the player between races, and animations were tightened up and improved, including using some of the blocking and falling animations from John Madden Football to make players wipeout’s more visceral. However, the major point of change was the addition of combat. Mey was a big fan of Yu Suzuki’s Hang-On and the development team made no secret that Road Rash was heavily inspired by the game, but Mey thought Hang-On was missing something, they could do it better. By adding in the combat mechanic, Road Rash was able to differentiate itself from other racing games on the market. While projectiles are a no-go due to programming constraints, melee combat was perfect. Players could punch and kick their opponents, or they could bash them with a billy club if they’re able to steal one away from another racer. After 21 months, Road Rash was finally completed and released to the public. In a shrewd move, Randy Breen used an EA policy of not crediting producers on box art, making sure that Mey’s name would not be there, but instead his own as he was no longer, technically, producer. This led to an EA mandate that no one’s name would be allowed on game boxes moving forward, and to rub even more dirt in Breen’s eye, they awarded Mey with “Fireman of the Year”, an internal EA award given to the person who had the most impact on a troubled project.
When Road Rash hit store shelves it became an instant hit with both critics and players. Every major gaming outlet gave the game very scores, with GamePro even giving it a perfect 20 out of 20. Mey’s feeling that they could do Hang-On, but better, came true as multiple critics described the game as the next level in motorcycle racing after Hang-On. They were impressed with not just the combat element, but the varying backgrounds and inclusion of realistic hills that you could drive on, being seen at the time as one of the most realistic and impressive uses of 3D graphics in a video game. The game was selling (and renting) very well, and it was EA’s most profitable game of all time, up to that point. The game would eventually be ported to the Amiga and Game Boy, as well as Sega’s Master System and Game Gear. Several sequels would follow, with the final entry Jailbreak releasing on the PlayStation in 2000. The series went on ice after that, but a spiritual successor, Road Redemption, was released on modern consoles & PC in 2017 (although it does not appear any of the original team worked on it). Sadly, Road Rash is no longer available, at least the Genesis version, with the only copies left being the original cart (or emulated). I had a really, really great time playing this over the last week, and while the game is fairly shallow, it’s still a ton of fun trying to make your way through the pack, punching and kicking your way to first place. I highly recommend it.
Castle Wolfenstein (Apple II) – Released Sep. 1981: Wiki Link
While many of us may know Wolfenstein as a series of first person shooters, starting with the groundbreaking 1992 Woldenstein 3D, the series actually began in 1981 on the Apple II, though it looked quite different. Castle Wolfenstine, unlike it’s follow-up titles, is a top down stealth/action game that, on its surface, has more in common with the first Metal Gear than the first person shooter series we all know. Created by a man named Silas Warner for the company Muse Software, he had originally envisioned the game as a 1980’s set thriller in which a man must move from room to room, however that was about as far as we got with the concept before hitting a wall. A few days later, Warner would do two things; play Berzerk and watch the film The Guns of Navarone. Replacing Berzerk’s robots with Nazi’s, Warner then envisioned his rooms as being an elaborate dungeon underneath a German castle called Wolfenstein (loosely inspired by the real life castle, Wewelsburg), tasking players with escaping from it. Castle Wolfenstein is comprised of 60 rooms, with all of them being procedurally generated before the start of the game, taking roughly 35-60 seconds each time you booted up the game. Within each room would various types of guards and an exit to the next room. Occasionally you’d see a treasure chest, but because they took a long time to open you would need to decide if it was worth the chance of being caught. While we might think of Wolfenstein today as a fast paced shooter, Castle Wolfenstein was meant to be played more methodically, favoring stealth over direct conflict. Your other main objective aside from escape is to also find the Nazi’s battle plans, adding another layer of stealth and espionage. If players make it through the castle with the plans they get promoted and can play the game again on a harder difficulty, much like an arcade game. Reception to the game was mostly positive when it was released, being one of the top selling computer games of the year but, despite the warm reception, some critics had problems with the game; there was too much waiting around. The long load time at the beginning was the first long wait, second was that every room loaded off the disk and took an extended time to appear and, finally, treasure chests took far too long to open and often contained useless items. Still, despite it’s faults, most critics agreed that Castle Wolfenstein was an addictive game that felt very rewarding upon completion. Looking at both this and last week’s Wizardry, the Apple II was certainly a gaming device well worth owning in 1981. A sequel, Beyond Castle Wolfenstein, would release in 1984 and, as mentioned above, would be the inspiration for the 1992 first person shooter Wolfenstein 3D which itself would spawn multiple sequels. The stealth genre was still in its infancy in 1981 and despite titles like Metal Gear releasing in the late 1980’s, we wouldn’t see the genre really take off until 1998 with Tenchu, Metal Gear Solid, and Thief. Like a lot of the other titles from 1981, if you enjoy the stealth genre today then you owe a huge debt of gratitude to Castle Wolfenstein and Silas Warner.
Here’s an hour plus longplay of the entire game. Pay close attention to how long things take to happen, as well as some of the earliest use of voices in a video game, with Warner recording all of the dialog himself: