Welcome back to New Game Releases, aka Tuesday New Games, where we discuss all of the latest new releases that are coming out for the week, as well as celebrate three (or four) titles from 10, 20 and 30 (and sometimes 40) years ago. If this is your first time checking out this column, welcome; I hope you stop by every week! If you’re a long time reader then let me welcome you back and thank you whole heartedly for your continued support. The first couple weeks of January are typically pretty slow, and 2022 is no exception. Catch up on that 2021 backlog because the big titles will be here sooner than you know it.
Dead Cells: The Queen and the Sea (PC/PS4/Switch/Xbox One) – Releases Jan. 6th
2018’s Dead Cells has been the gift that keeps on giving, as this “roguevania” game continually puts out high quality DLC that extends its already fantastic gameplay. With the latest expansion, The Queen and the Sea, players will get three new late-game levels to explore, Infested Shipwreck, Lighthouse, and The Crown. Not only that, but the game adds in nine new weapons (including a throwable shark), a companion pet, new costumes, and new enemies. If you’ve been sleeping on Dead Cells (like I was) then now is the perfect time to check out this amazing game.
Demon Gaze EXTRA (PS4/Switch) – Releases Jan. 6th
Originally released for the PS Vita in 2014, Demon Gaze EXTRA is a dungeon crawler in the same vein as Bard’s Tale or the early Shin Megami Tensei games. Players take on the role of a young wizard named Oz who has the ability to see demons. Joining Oz are a group of player created characters whom Oz can converse with at the town inn, gaining their trust and companionship. When you aren’t talking up your party-mates, you’ll spend time in various dungeons doing some demon hunting, with the added bonus that you can summon these demons after defeating them. This is all kind of typical, JRPG bullshit, but it could be a fun time waster until the bigger RPGs release later this year. Plus the game is no longer locked to the Vita, which is great for its preservation.
Picross S7 (Switch) – Releases Jan. 10th
Who doesn’t love Picross? These little puzzles are super addictive, leading you to ponder just how you spent three hours staring at numbers and dots in a grid. You’re still in your pajamas, you haven’t eaten anything, or showered. The dog looks at you, holding its leash in its mouth, waiting for you to walk them, but you don’t. The dog walks into the study and pulls open your desk drawer, taking out the revolver you keep in there. It’s go one bullet, and you swear that one day you’ll use it on yourself, but you’re too much of a fucking wimp to do it. Come on fucker! Do it! You won’t, will you? You’re just going to make the dog do it, huh? Okay, here he comes, gun in paw, standing on his hind legs, wearing a trench coat and fedora. Hey, you think Anne Geddes would take a picture of this? Oh my gosh, it’s so cute! Honey, get in here, the dog has my pistol and is wearing clothes!! This is the best birthday ever.
Notable Releases from 10, 20 and 30 years ago:
NFL Blitz (PS3/Xbox 360) – Released Jan. 3rd, 2012: Wiki Link
The 2009 bankruptcy and closure of Midway Games saw the vast majority of its intellectual property and library go to Warner Bros. Interactive, with the major “get” being Mortal Kombat. However, Midway also had a few other properties that would look attractive to potential buyers, one of those being the arcade sports series Blitz. Originally developed for arcades and released in 1997, NFL Blitz was Midway’s attempt to put the NBA Jam formula onto an American football game. It was a smash success, and subsequent console ports of the game were met wide widespread, critical acclaim. This success would not last, however, with each new entry in the franchise failing to gain as much success and notoriety as the first game, but the final nail in the coffin to the original series (and to American football games in general) was the day that publisher EA became the sole license holder for the NFL. Midway would go back to the series two more times in the aftermath of the EA/NFL deal, releasing two Blitz: The League titles, but the company just wasn’t able to survive. Now, with Blitz up for grabs, EA was ready to pounce as they looked to expand their portfolio of licensed football games.
Developed by EA Tiburon, the same studio that makes the Madden games, the new NFL Blitz was pretty close to its 1997 counterpart. This was not an accident, as the team at EA Tiburon would hold NFL Blitz tournaments in their offices on the original arcade machines. This attention to detail was not unnoticed by critics who praised the game for feeling similar to the original. In early January, NFL Blitz (2012) was released on the Xbox Live Marketplace and PlayStation Network as a downloadable title but (due to what I assume are licensing issues) the game was unceremoniously delisted near the end of 2021, making it impossible to play. I would have had more to say about this game if it was still around but, alas, here we are. Despite a warm reception, NFL Blitz (2012) would be the last game in the franchise but it wouldn’t be the last time they’d make arcade style football. From what I can tell, starting with the release of Madden 14, EA Tiburon added in fast paced, arcade modes to the series, with varying degrees of rules and gameplay. I’m sure EA didn’t see much value in developing two separate American football games every year, with it being far more cost effective to throw in a barebones version of arcade football using an existing engine. Farewell, NFL Blitz, may we one day find your arcade machine in the back corner of an aging dive bar, covered in cigarette ash and vomit.
Rez (PS2) – Released Jan. 8th, 2002: Wiki Link
Notable Film Release: Black Hawk Down – Starring Josh Hartnett, Eric Bana, Ewan McGregor, Tom Sizemore, William Fichtner, and Sam Shepard.
Notable Album Release: Metal Fingers (MF DOOM) – Special Herbs, Vol. 2
Music and video games have been intertwined since almost the beginning, from the early days of the arcade where simple theme songs conveyed the mood of the game, to memorable NES jaunts, all the way to sweeping JRPG scores. By 2002, however, music had found another way to coexist with video games, as part of the gameplay itself. While there are early instances of “rhythm games” to be found in the arcades, it was 1996’s PaRappa The Rapper that has been credited with pioneering the genre. That game’s use of music as a gameplay element was further imitated and expanded upon by other titles like Bust A Groove, Beatmania and, of course, Dance Dance Revolution. With this new genre taking off, it was only natural that it would find its way to the next generation of consoles in the early party of the 21st century. In 2001, developer Harmonix had released their first major game, Frequency, to rave reviews but poor sales. It was the PS2’s first rhythm game, however over on the Dreamcast there had already been a couple from a studio called United Game Artists.
Founded in 1996 by Tetsuya Mizuguchi, United Game Artists (then known as AM Annex) was a subsidiary of Sega. Mizuguchi created the studio to get away from the work environment at Sega, which he thought was too big. He wanted to work with a smaller, more intimate team that didn’t have so many people looking over their shoulder. Their first game was a racing sim for arcades called Sega Touring Car Championship, where it received a lukewarm reception. Critics thought it was a very impressive driving simulator, but they found the game hard to play because of the extreme realism when it came to driving. After the release of Sega Touring Car Championship, Mizuguchi still felt that his work environment was too large, so he opted to move himself away from the Sega HQ entirely and set up shop in Shibuya. It was here that he was directed to create a new game for Sega’s Dreamcast that would appeal to young women and casual players. Having no idea what this demographic wanted, Mizuguchi would interview several women to find out their gameplay tastes. He found that women, unlike men, were not as competitive when it came to high scores or player rankings. Instead, they just liked solving puzzles and accomplishing something. Mizuguchi would take this knowledge and apply it to the rhythm game genre, creating Space Channel 5 to much acclaim and success. What he’d follow it up with would be, well, transcendental.
During development of Sega Rally Championship 2, Mizuguchi spent a lot of time in Europe doing research. While there he made several friends, some of whom took him to a music festival/event called Street Parade. As he watched the crowd swaying in time to the music he had an epiphany, this was what he wanted video games to be able to do as well. This event would inspire Space Channel 5, but it wouldn’t be fully realized until the creation of Rez. In Rez, players take on the role of a hacker who has infiltrated the…mind, CPU…of a rogue AI. While in this virtual world, the player is attacked by viruses and corrupted security programs who are trying to stop them from destroying the AI. Rez is, at its core, an on-rails shooter, not unlike Panzer Dragoon, in fact much of that team worked on Rez. Okay, you might be thinking, what does this have to do with music and rhythm games? Well, Rez uses music to not just convey the mood and tone, but it integrates it into the gameplay. Each of the game’s five areas is comprised of ten stages, with each stage adding a new layer to the in-game music. Early stages are quiet and subdued, and by stage ten you find yourself in a full on, hyperactive, rave. When enemies are defeated they produce a beat that you can sync in time with the music, leading to Mizuguchi’s ultimate goal; a feeling of synesthesia.
Synesthesia, if you aren’t familiar with the term, is a perceptual phenomenon in which stimulation of one sensory or cognitive pathway leads to involuntary experiences in a second sensory or cognitive pathway. To achieve this, Mizuguchi wanted to fill Rez with as much sensory feedback as possible, with the sound of enemies dying being akin to the “call and response” concept when going to a live concert, to creating a physical device players could wear that would vibrate to the game’s rhythm (he would have to continually clarify was not intended as a “sexual aid”). Continuing with the idea of synesthesia, the game’s graphics were intentionally made to be abstract and minimalist, in order to heighten one’s own feelings about what you see and feel, giving Rez an almost unique and varied experience to everyone who played it. This was also an attempt by Mizuguchi to bring more casual gamers into the hobby, as he felt that too much realistic violence turned off most people. While Rez was slated to be a Dreamcast exclusive, the failure of that console meant that development would also need to be done for Sony’s brand new machine, the very popular PlayStation 2. Released first in Japan in November of 2001, the game would come to North America in January of 2002, but only for the PS2.
When Rez was released in late ’01/early ’02, people didn’t really know what to make of it, especially the marketing department at Sega. Mizuguchi had a very hard time pitching the game to his bosses at Sega, then he had a hard time explaining the concept of the game to the development team and, ultimately, he had a hard time explaining to the public just what Rez was. Famously, at E3 2001, Mizuguchi had to resort to sort of shock tactics to promote the game, dying his hair a brilliant white. He knew that trying to explain the game to people was too difficult so he instead opted to stand silently on stage and play through the game, letting it speak for itself. The tactic worked and both Sega and Sony were highly impressed with the game, but it was still a tough sell. Rez did very poorly in Japan when it released and, not surprisingly, it fared even worse in North America. Critics had a mixed bag of reactions. Famitsu gave Rez a score of 32, preferring the PS2 version, while Western critics praised the game for its unique gameplay elements and its use of music, but they were almost all quick to note that Rez was highly niche and would likely not appeal to the mass market due to its minimalist graphics and electronic dance music.
Rez was a commercial flop, as even the European market rejected the game (seen as the last hope for the title). Due to its “simplicity”, the game wasn’t appealing to hardcore shooter fans, and the lack of concrete rhythm game qualities didn’t make the game appealing to fans of titles like PaRappa and DDR. Still, Rez did receive accolades from the gaming industry, being nominated for “Outstanding Innovation” and “Console Action/Adventure Game” at the DICE Awards, receiving a BAFTA nomination, and winning GameSpot’s “Best Graphics (artistic)” award. Retrospectively, Rez has been highly praised, being called ahead of its time by modern critics. When the game received an HD re-release in 2016 it was able to incorporate VR functionality, allowing Mizuguchi to even further explore the ideas of synesthesia. In 2003, after Sega’s restructuring, United Game Artists was dissolved and absorbed into Sonic Team, leaving Mizuguchi feeling out of place. He would leave Sega and found Q Entertainment where they would create games like Lumines, Meteos, Every Extend Extra, and Child of Eden, a spiritual successor to Rez. Currently, Mizuguchi works as the only employee at a company called Enhance, Inc., where he partnered up with The Tetris Company to create the game Tetris Effect. Rez was an odd duck when it released for the PS2 in 2002, but word of mouth, a changing demographic, and new thoughts on what a video game could be, have put the game in its rightful place among the best ever created.
Mega Man 4 (NES) – Released Jan. 1st, 1992: Wiki Link
Notable Film Release: Fried Green Tomatoes – Starring Kathy Bates, Jessica Tandy, Mary Stuart Masterson, Mary-Louise Parker, and Cicely Tyson
Notable Album Release: The Magnetic Fields – The Wayward Bus
For Mega Man’s fourth outing, the blue bomber found himself going head to head with a brand new foe, the evil Russian scientist Dr. Cossack who…had eight robot masters that he was going to use to take over the world. Well, that seems a little familiar, oh, it’s because (spoiler) the mastermind behind Dr. Cossack’s evil plan is none other than Dr. Wily; dun, dun, dun! Yes, folks, Mega Man 4 tried its best to set itself apart from the previous three entries, but at the end of the say it was the same old thing we had seen before; and that’s okay. Like Mega Man 3’s slide move, part 4 also included a new gameplay mechanic, the somewhat controversial Mega Buster. To pull off this move, players would hold down the shot button, charging up the attack, before releasing it as a large ball of energy. What made this so controversial, to some players, was due to two reasons; the first was that it slowed gameplay down in a franchise that was known for speed, and second was that it made some boss weapons pointless as the Mega Buster was far more powerful than they were (honestly, though, does anyone really use every boss weapon?).
Long time Mega Man artist Keji Inafune was still on board to help with development, but the series would hire a new designer named Hayato Kaji, or K. Hyato, who was responsible for adding in the Mega Buster, eventually becoming an even bigger designer in later Mega Man games. As they had done for Mega Man 2 and 3, the team at Capcom held a contest that allowed fans to submit their own designs for the eight robot masters, with two designs of particular note. The first is Skull Man, submitted by Toshiyuki Miyachi, a design that was so cool that the developers completely scrapped a stage they had been working on, just so they could incorporate the character. Second was Dust Man, submitted by Yusuke Murata, a name that might be familiar to manga fans as he has a long career in the industry, illustrating the popular One Punch Man series (Murata would also get a boss in Mega Man 5, Crystal Man). Aside from the eight new robot masters, Mega Man 4 also added in other new characters, like the aforementioned Dr. Cossack, as well as his daughter Kalinka, and finally a small robot named Eddie who would appear at certain points in a stage and give Mega Man a random item. Inafune had revealed that Eddie was originally slated to appear in Mega Man 2, but he was cut for time. His idea for Eddie would be that he was kind of like a lottery system, with the reward given to players ranging from useless (small weapon/health refills) to incredibly helpful (energy tanks/1-up’s).
Reception to Mega Man 4 from critics was varied. Famitsu was fairly critical of the game, giving it a score of 27 out of 40, while Western critics were a bit more forgiving, seeing its scores closer to the high end, with even Gamepro rating 5 out of 5 stars. Most critics agreed that the graphics and sound were top notch for the aging NES, but most conceded that there wasn’t a whole lot new in this entry compared to the previous three games. All in all, Mega Man 4 was praised as a stand alone experience on the NES, but it was sub par when compared to parts 2 and 3. The Mega Man series would continue for several more years, with parts 5 and 6 coming to the NES, 7 releasing for the SNES, and 8 for the PlayStation before going into hiatus. If you want to play Mega Man 4 you can easily find it on modern consoles in the Mega Man Legacy Collection, which includes a handy rewind button, as well as an ability to save the game at any point. Some modern critics might see Mega Man 4 as the start of the decline of the franchise, but any game series that can put out eleven main line titles, as well as dozens of spin-off’s, must be doing something right.