I can’t think of a funny quip to say here so I guess we can just dive right into the new releases. Oh, um, for being the Halloween release week there sure aren’t that many scary games, I mean, unless you don’t think that the glut of Superhero media we currently have isn’t scary. Like, what’s the deal with all the Superheroes? There we go; I’m hilarious.
Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy (PC/PS4/PS5/Switch/Xbox One/Series X|S) – Releases Oct. 26th
From Eidos-Montreal, the developer behind the recent Deus Ex titles, comes yet another big piece of Superhero media. Just in case you don’t get enough Superheroes in your movies, your television programs, your books, your comics, your board games, your toys, your clothes, your cups & plates, or your cooking utensils, you can rest easy knowing that your video games will still be chock full of them. Early reviews have been pretty positive for this new Guardians game, with people comparing it favorably to the recent Deus Ex titles. Would I personally have rather gotten a new Deus Ex? Yes, but having that style of game with a coat of Guardians of the Galaxy paint isn’t all that bad. The tone of the game carries that James Gunn wit, although the filmmaker had no involvement with the game, but at least they tried to keep the spirit of the films. I will say, however, that these character models are hideous and just like the recent Avengers video game, they look more like poor stunt doubles than they do their film counterparts.
Neptunia X Senran Kagura: Ninja Wars (PS4) – Releases Oct. 26th
Fans of the Hyperdimension Neptunia and Senran Kagura franchises are in for a big teat, I mean treat, when their two sexy worlds collide into one giant supernova of fan service. It’s a dungeon crawler beat ’em up with RPG elements, but of course the main thing fans want to know is…can you play it with one hand?
Age of Empires IV (PC) – Releases Oct. 28th
It has been 16 years since the last new Age of Empires game was released, however we have received a steady drip of AoE content ever since, including HD remakes of parts 2 and 3, as well as “Definitive Editions” of parts 1, 2 and 3. Now, finally, the remakes and remasters are done and we have an actual, brand new, Age of Empires game, phew! The game is primarily set during the Middle Ages, with scenarios based on the story of the Norman conquest of England, The Hundred Years War between England and France, The rise of the Grand Duchy of Moscow, and the Mongol Empire’s conquest of much of the known world. You will have eight civilizations to choose from at launch, the English, the Chinese, the Mongols, the Delhi Sultanate, the French, the Abbassid Dynasty, the Holy Roman Empire, and the Rus. Pick it up from your favorite digital PC storefront or download it for free on day one from Xbox Game Pass for PC.
Riders Republic (PC – Epic Games Store/PS4/PS5/Stadia/Xbox One/Series X|S) – Releases Oct. 28th
Have you ever thought to yourself “man, I really love this extreme sports game I’m playing, but I wish I could play it with hundreds of other people as an MMO style RPG“. No? Oh, well Ubisoft thinks you have. Dress up in your favorite Fortnite cosplay and destroy the natural beauty of Yosemite with your mountain bikes and smoke canisters.
Voice of Cards: The Isle Dragon Roars (PC/PS4/Switch) – Releases Oct. 28th
After the release of Dungeon Encounters a couple of weeks ago, Square Enix is back with yet another unique RPG with Voice of Cards: The Isle Dragon Roars. Developed by most of the same team that worked on the Drakengard and Nier franchises, including auteur Yoko Taro, Voice of Cards has players traversing a high fantasy world where the map is made up entirely of cards. As you travel, cards will flip over and you’ll be able to interact with whatever is there, moving the story along as you try and save the world from an evil dragon.
Mario Party Superstars (Switch) – Releases Oct. 29th
With its twelfth entry in the franchise, Mario Party Superstars is a kind of “greatest hits” remaster of the three N64 Mario Party titles. Players will be able to experience updated versions of five classic game boards and compete in 100 classic mini-games pulled from the across the entire series. In some good news, the game will allow players to use any Switch controller the desire, unlike Super Mario Party, but the bad news is that the infamous Tug of War mini-game is back. If your Joy Con didn’t already have the dreaded drift, well, it’s probably going to after a few rounds of that game.
Ports and Re-releases:
Fatal Frame: Maiden of Blackwater (PC/PS4/PS5/Switch/Xbox One/Series X|S) – Releases Oct. 28th
Finally, an actual spooky game for Halloween! Originally released on the Wii U back in 2015, Fatal Frame: Maiden of Blackwater is a survival horror game in which players will explore the fictional Hikami Mountain, a place well known for its abundant suicides. Players will encounter hostile ghosts along the way, with their only means of offense is an antique Camera Obscura which they can use to damage the ghosts and send them into the afterlife, or something. The original game used the Wii U’s gamepad to mimic the camera, leading some reviewers to criticize the game. With a new control scheme will that help elevate the game to a higher critical score? I don’t know, but I bet it’ll make the game far less annoying to play.
Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity – Guardian of Remembrance (Switch) – Releases Oct. 29th
While I personally wasn’t as smitten with this game as I was with the original Hyrule Warriors, I know a lot of people loved Age of Calamity, so they are probably pretty excited for this DLC. Featuring a new dual character to play as, Purah & Robbie, new stages to explore, and an apparently very emotional story, Guardian of Remembrance should be well worth your time.
This week’s smaller titles are pretty interesting. We’ve got a visual novel, a 30 year old Japanese franchise that is just now making its North American debut, a new NASCAR game, another unique RPG with Undernauts, a couple licensed titles for kids, a modern remake of a the arcade classic Black Widow, and a port of an old shoot ’em up.
- Hermitage: Strange Case Files (PC/PS4/Switch/Xbox One) – Releases Oct. 26th
- Moonglow Bay (PC) – Releases Oct. 26th
- The Smurfs – Mission Vileaf (PC, probably on consoles?) – Releases Oct. 26th
- Super Robot Wars 30 (PC/PS4/Switch) – Releases Oct. 27th
- Black Widow: Recharged (PC/PS4/PS5/Switch/Xbox One/Series X|S) – Releases Oct. 28th
- NASCAR 21: Ignition (PC/PS4/Xbox One) – Releases Oct. 28th
- Undernauts: Labyrinth of Yomi (PC/PS4/PS5/Switch/Xbox One) – Releases Oct. 28th
- Panorama Cotton (PS4/Switch) – Releases Oct. 29th
- PJ Masks: Heroes of the Night (PC/PS4/Switch/Xbox One) – Releases Oct. 29th
- Sunshine Manor (PC) – Releases Oct. 31st
Notable Releases from 10, 20 and 30 years ago:
Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception (PS3) – Released Nov. 1st, 2011: Wiki Link
Developer Naughty Dog was riding high by 2011. Their previous two Uncharted games were two of the best selling and highest scoring games on the PS3, so it came as no surprise to anyone that a third entry would be made. What might have been surprising, however, was that Naughty Dog didn’t devote all of their resources to the game and would split the company into two teams; one focused on Uncharted 3 and the other focused on a brand new IP, some kind of zombie game called The Last of Us (more on that in 2023). With creative director and writer Amy Henning back in the saddle, Uncharted 3 finds Nathan Drake lost in the desert, a deliberate change in scenery from the previous Uncharted games as the team wanted to find a location they hadn’t used before, and they were looking for a technical challenge, as rendering sand, fire, and water are complicated to animate. Set two years after the events of the previous game, Drake and his companion Sully meet up with a man named Talbot who offers to buy Sir Francis Drake’s ring from the two men. They accuse the buyers of using counterfeit money, a scuffle ensues, and Drak and Sully are eventually subdued, with Sully’s former employer Katherine Marlowe, stealing the ring and then having Drake and Sully shot. The game then flashes back 20 years to the point where a young Nathan Drake and Victor “Sully” Sullivan first meet. Eventually we return to the present and it turns out that one of the goons, Cutter, was working with Drake and Sully, faking their deaths and tricking Katherine into stealing a fake ring. These events all take place in an urban setting, yet another environment that hadn’t been fully explored in the previous Uncharted games, and allowed the team to tell stories and create set pieces that they hadn’t yet explored.
With the game officially revealed in Entertainment Weekly magazine in December 2010, Henning described how Naughty Dog was making a concerted effort to make the game as cinematic as possible. This, she said, would be most noticeable by the large amount of motion capture used in the game for uncharted 3’s cut scenes. The push for a more cinematic experience was to help usher in a new era of Uncharted as “transmedia” entertainment, as this was also around the time that it was announced that director David O. Russell was going to write and direct an Uncharted film starring Mark Wahlberg, and that a series of novels set in the Uncharted universe were about to be written. While there was a push to make Uncharted 3 a highly cinematic, single player experience, like most games of its time there was also a big push to make it multiplayer friendly. The team at Naughty Dog were quick to say that their multiplayer mode in Uncharted 2 was not up to par with their standards, so they strove to make the modes in part 3 just as good as the single player game. This mostly translated to a free-for-all deathmatch with a ton of character customization options, as well as maps that would contain large scale set pieces, similar to those in the single player game, in which players would have to try and survive if they wanted to win the match. The game also featured a level co-op adventure that players could complete, featuring a loosely tied together story, an improvement over a similar mode in Uncharted 2. With development done and the game now gold, it was time for fans to get their hands on Nathan Drake’s latest adventure.
In an age where most game companies keep their projects close to the vest and out of the public eye until the very last moment, Uncharted 3 was given a lot of pre-release exposure to fans before hand. There were two contests where players could score an early copy of the game, and there was even an event in the U.S. that had Sony and Naughty Dog partnering up with AMC Theatres, allowing the public to purchase either a $25 dollar ticket to watch a short film about the making of the game and then participate in online multiplayer on the big screen, in 3D. However, if you were willing to plunk down $60 bucks for the event, Sony would ship you a copy of the game a week before release, allowing you to play the game early as well as get acquainted with the multiplayer mode before going to the event at AMC. As was expected, critics and players adored Uncharted 3, with the game receiving very high scores across multiple gaming outlets. During awards season, Uncharted 3 would be called “Game of the Year” by multiple outlets, beating out other major titles like Arkham City , Skyward Sword, and Skyrim. While the PS4 and PS5 are not backwards compatible with PS3 titles, Uncharted 3 is available in a remastered form through the Uncharted Collection, which also features the first and second games. I have personally never played much of the Uncharted series, having only spent a couple hours with the first one, and now a couple hours with the third one. They’re fun games, but not quite my style. Still, if you want a great, cinematic, third person adventure, Uncharted 3 is one of the best out there.
Dragon Warrior VII (PlayStation) – Released Oct. 31st, 2001: Wiki Link
With the massive success of Final Fantasy VII in North America, the JRPG genre was finally starting to find its foothold in the West, which meant that titles that wouldn’t typically get a Western release in the past were finally starting to make their way to the worldwide audience. While the Dragon Quest series (or as it was known in the U.S., Dragon Warrior) did have some success on the NES with its first four releases, part V and VI for the SNES were never localized and brought West. This was mainly due to budget constraints and technical limitations, coupled with Enix’s desire to no longer work with or support Nintendo. You see, when Dragon Warrior VII was first announced it was going to be released on Nintendo’s 64DD console expansion for the N64. However, that system’s failure combined with the high cost of producing cartridges led to Enix moving the title over to Sony’s PlayStation. The news was so catastrophic for Nintendo that it put them into “crisis mode” and led to investors not believing in the long term viability of the Nintendo 64, and perhaps of the entire company. Sony, on the other hand, saw their stock skyrocket in Japan, with analysts believing the title would continue the PlayStation’s upward trajectory. When it released in Japan on August 26th, 2000, they were right. The release of Dragon Quest (Warrior) VII in Japan was a major plus for the country’s economy. Analysts predicted that the game would pump nearly 50 billion yen into the Japanese economy, fueling pre-release hype and making it one of the most anticipated video games of all time. Sales and reception in Japan were phenomenal, and by 2001 the game would go on to sell over 4 million copies in Japan, making it the best selling PlayStation game of all time in Japan, as well as being Japan’s the third best selling video game of all time (coming in behind Super Mario Bros. and Tetris).
With such massive sales in Japan, and a lower cost to produce, the decision was made to localize the game for the U.S., and while it would release almost a year after the PS2 would succeed the PSX, that console’s backwards compatibility still made it an attractive title. However, despite the warm reception JRPGs were receiving in the U.S., the game could only muster up 200k units sold in North America, far below the Final Fantasy games, which had sold in the millions of copies. This may have led to a cancelled localization of the Dragon Quest IV PlayStation remake, however Enix denied this was the case (mmm, hmm…). Critics in both the East and West gave high praise to Dragon Warrior VII, however a good number of Western critics were quick to point out that the game would likely not appeal to most a large portion of players in the U.S. They were concerned that the game’s opening few hours were too tedious and boring, expecting that most U.S. players were accustomed to high octane thrill ride video games. There was also a contingent of critics who were upset about the “poor graphics”, especially since we already had the very powerful PS2 and its slew of gorgeous games. They warned players that Dragon Warrior VII wasn’t nearly on the same level graphics-wise as Final Fantasy VII and that the game was mostly meant for the hardest of hardcore RPG fans. Despite the poor sales in the U.S., the newly formed Square Enix would localize and release Dragon Quest VIII in the U.S., and yes, it was called “Quest” this time, making Dragon Warrior VII the last game in the series to carry that moniker. The series has found much more success in recent years, and there was even a remastered version Dragon Warrior VII released on the 3DS in 2016. While the series might not be as popular here as the Final Fantasy series is, Dragon Warrior/Quest has always kept a foot firmly planted in the old school RPG world, making these titles a nice throwback to the old way of doing things. That’s a-okay with me.
ActRaiser (SNES) – Released Nov. 1991: Wiki Link
While publisher Enix was well known for their Dragon Quest (Warrior) games on the NES, their first offering for the Super Nintendo wasn’t part of that franchise. In fact, it wasn’t even an RPG. ActRaiser is a hybrid game, with players spending an equal amount of time platforming as they do building cities. Players take on the role of “The Master” (known as “God” in Japan) who watches over the people in the world below. Much time has passed, and humans no longer believe in The Master/God and you awaken to find out that your arch enemy Tanzra “The Evil One” (Satan in Japan) has divided the world into six regions and given control of them to his evil lieutenants. This has turned the people evil as well, so it is up to The Master/God to defeat the evil and bring peace and harmony to the world. To do this, players will take control of two avatars for The Master. In side scrolling platform stages you inhabit a statue of a warrior and fight the evil forces of Tanzra/Satan, allowing you to then take on the role of a cherubic angel who is tasked with rebuilding civilization. While rebuilding, enemy forces, as well as natural disasters, can impede your progress. Once the humans have fully rebuilt their society, The Master once again inhabits the statue of the warrior and fights a boss, ultimately leading to a final confrontation with Tanzra/Satan.
As you might have guessed from the description above, ActRaiser has some heavy Judeo-Christian themes, particularly the idea of monotheism (the “One God” belief). As such, all of the bosses you fight are representations of “false Gods” from Greek Mythology and Hinduism. If I can spoil the ending, once you defeat Tanzra/Satan, the humans decide that they no longer need or believe in The Master/God because all of their struggles have gone away. The Master/God decides that he will no longer bother humans and will simply lie in wait, one day returning when they need him most. As you might know, back in the early days of Nintendo there were strict guidelines about what you could and couldn’t show in America. There were the obvious culprits, such as gore, nudity, and alcohol/drug use, but what is most surprising was NOA’s insistence that there be no mention or allusion to religion or religious symbols. Things like crosses and the Star of David were strictly forbidden, as was any mention of God, Heaven, etc. This is why you are called The Master and not God, and why your enemy is Tanzra instead of Satan. Critics and players were impressed with the game, with ActRaiser selling almost 200k copies in the U.S. (not far off from how much Dragon Warrior VII would sell ten years later). While some critics didn’t think it was the best platformer OR the best city builder on the market, they were very impressed with how well ActRaiser melded the two genres to create a satisfying game. A sequel would arrive in 1993 that removed all of the city building aspects, focusing solely on platforming, and a remake would release in 2021 for modern consoles. This modern remake is currently the only way to experience ActRaiser as the original SNES version was lost when Nitnendo shut down the Wii’s online store. It’s truly a shame but hey, that’s what emulators are for.
It’s the end of the month so here’s our final Murder City Devils song. Originally the band ended on Halloween in 2001, twenty years ago, but they’d reunite in 2006 and get back to making some of the best punk music out there. I hope you’ve enjoyed listening to them over the last four week and I really hope that you’ll check out more of their stuff, it’s rad.