We’re two weeks into the new year and both of our top releases have been DLC which may lead you to believe that 2022 is going to be a slow year. Ha! This is just the calm before the storm, because it won’t be too long before we have huge, giant releases coming out every week. Prepare yourself folks, get those thumbs stretched and the butt groove in your couch re…uh…grooved, because sooner than you know it, you’ll be drowning in big ass titles.
Here they are, folks. Some more DLC for Far Cry 6, two console exclusives making the jump to PC, and whatever those other two games are. Just sit back and cast an everlasting gaze at the weeks ahead, we’ll be playing the good stuff in no time.
- Far Cry 6 – Pagan: Control (PC/PS4/PS5/Stadia/Xbox One/Series X|S) – Releases Jan. 11th
- Monster Hunter Rise (PC) – Releases Jan. 12th
- God of War (PC) – Releases Jan. 14th
- Duel Princess (Switch) – Releases Jan. 13th
- Shadow Man Remastered (Switch) – Releases Jan. 17th
Notable Releases from 10, 20 and 30 (and sometimes 40) years ago:
Mutant Mudds (3DS) – Released Jan. 26th, 2012: Wiki Link
Mutant Mudds is a 2D action/platforming game from developer Renegade Kid. Founded in 2007 by Gregg Hargrove and Jools Watsham, two former employees of Iguana Entertainment, Renegade Kid’s intention was to bring N64 style games to the Nintendo DS as they felt their time at Iguana gave them an advantage over other developers. Their first game, Dementium: The Ward, was a first person, psychological horror game and gained mostly positive reviews. Their next game, another FPS title called Moon, was similarly well received and helped the small indie studio start to gain a bigger following, as well as allow for them to fully develop and release their own games without a publisher; this led to Mutant Mudds.
Originally conceived by Watsham as a third person shooter, he first tried to use the 3D engine from Moon as a jumping off point for this new game. After showing the game to a few publishers, as well as their fans, it failed to drum up much excitement. Going back to the drawing board, Watsham completely retooled the game as a 2D platformer with the player character, Max, floating around with a jetpack while shooting aliens. In the creation of the game, Watsham was heavily inspired by Gargoyle’s Quest, Virtual Boy Wario Land, and Super Mario World. As you play through the game you can immediately see these influences, from SMW’s bright graphics and world map, to the limited use of flight similar to Gargoyle’s Quest, to Virtual Boy Wario’s use of faux 3D by having the player move between different layers of the stage. With a team of just three people, Watsham as artist/designer, Matthew Gambrell as the programmer, and Troupe Gammage composing the score, Mutant Mudds was finally released on the 3DS eShop in January 2012 after a delay when the team was unable to get it submitted to Nintendo for approval before the Christmas and New Year’s holidays.
Critics were instantly charmed by Mutant Mudd’s gameplay and retro aesthetic. The ability to jump between the various layers of a stage was highly commended, with many noting Virtual Boy Wario Land’s obvious inspiration. Destructoid gave a very glowing review of the game saying that it excelled in the retro gaming space not just because of its graphics and chiptune music, but because it was clearly designed with optimal gameplay in mind. It didn’t just look and sound like an old game, but it felt like one too, with a ton of care and attention to making it feel just right. While most outlets praised the game, there was a bit of consensus that it lacked “elegance”, or to put it another way, it wasn’t very “cool”. Unlike the more “high art” indie retro games of the day like Super Meat Boy and VVVVVV, Mutant Mudds looked a bit more generic, but if you were able to look past its artistic shortcomings you would be in for a really nice treat. Mutant Mudds would eventually be ported to multiple consoles, including most recently on the Nintendo Switch, and a sequel would arrive in 2016 called Mutant Mudds: Super Challenge. Renegade Kid would eventually cease operations as the two co-founders, Watsham and Hargrove, would split up and form their own companies, with Watsham holding the rights to Mutant Mudds. I had a good time playing this, but I eventually found the game to become far too difficult to enjoy and have since put it down. Maybe one day I’ll go back to it.
NBA Courtside 2002 (GameCube) – Released Jan. 13th, 2002: Wiki Link
Just like 2022, the new releases of 2002 weren’t all that hot. Well, I guess if you were into basketball then maybe you were excited, particularly if you were a die hard Kobe Bryant fan, or a “Bry-Head”, a term I just coined. Critics were clearly hardcore Bry-Head’s, in 2002, as NBA Courtside 2002 received glowing reviews, even getting a respectable 32 out of 40 from Weekly Famitsu. NBA Courtside 2002 was the third game in the series, following two entries on the Nintendo 64, and it has the unique distinction of being not just a sports series exclusive to Nintendo consoles, but also a game published by the big N themselves. The game was developed by an American company called Left Field Productions who initially rose to prominence by creating the Slam ‘N’ Jam basketball series on the 3DO, before becoming a third party developer for Nintendo, eventually publishing their best known work, Excitebike 64 in 2000. If you want to play this game today, well, you can’t. It’s long out of print and I don’t see any reason why Nintendo would ever re-release it. It’s a serviceable basketball game with nothing special going for it. I don’t even know why I’m talking about NBA Courtside 2002, I’m not even a hardcore “Bry-Head”.
Ys III: Wanderers from Ys (SNES) – Released Jan. 1992: Wiki Link
Nihon Falcom’s Ys series is fairly well known today, particularly because of the high praise given to its last two titles, Ys VIII and Ys IX, however this series would enter a prolonged hiatus in the United States after the release of 1992’s Ys III: Wanderers From Ys. Things were tough for fans of the Ys series in the late 80’s/early 90’s as the games were kind of all over the place in terms of release. Part 1 came out on the Sega Master System, Apple PCs and IBM PCs. Part 2 would only release for the TurboGrafx-16 (in a bundle with part 1), and Ys III would arrive on the TG-16 and the SNES (the version we’re talking about today). With the series spread so thin it’s not hard to see why the fanbase wasn’t as solid as it was for other JRPG series like Final Fantasy and Dragon Quest. As you used to see on television (before streaming), when a show would get moved around to different timeslots, or even different networks, it would start to lose viewers. This is what I think happened with the Ys series, as I wager hardly anyone played the first two games, and if this was your introduction to it on the SNES, then you were probably confused about where the other games were, as well as likely put off by how generic it was.
When publisher Sammy brought the game to the Super Nintendo I would imagine they were hoping Ys III would be part of this new found interest in Japanese role playing games that was kick started by Final Fantasy. Instead it would cause the series to be kept out of the U.S. until the year 2005, probably not what anyone was expecting. Alright then, what is Ys III all about? Well, the game continues the story of series protagonist Adol Christin, a red haired sword fighter who travels the world with his pal Dogi as they search for adventure and treasure. When the game opens, players find themselves in Redmont, Dogi’s hometown, where they rescue a young girl named Elena from a monster. Upon entering the town, Adol and Dogi learn that Redmont is being threatened by the ruler of a nearby castle. With Dogi staying in town to discuss plans, Adol ventures out into the kingdom to try and stop the bad guys. Over the course of the adventure, Adol meets a few other key characters and eventually learns of a plot to awaken a long dormant demon named Galbalan. Eventually Adol must face against the forces of evil before taking on Galbalan in a climatic final battle; saving the day and bringing peace to Redmont.
The story in Ys III is really generic, derivative stuff, so in order for it to stand out it would need some killer gameplay. Unfortunately, Ys III doesn’t deliver there either. The first two Ys games were top down affairs with combat taking place automatically as players would bump into monsters. For the third entry, combat was switched up to be active instead of passive, requiring players to push a button to attack. This took away one of the major gameplay elements that set Ys apart from other RPGs and action games, adding even further to its overall generic feeling. Still, playing it knowing its pedigree and history helped me slog through it, even spending several hours grinding by walking back and forth between screens to kill the same enemy 100 times to level up and collect gold. This, ultimately, is what brings Ys III down, there’s too much time wasted on getting stronger instead of actually progressing the story. Thankfully, the game is quite merciful when it comes to saving, as it can be done anywhere at any time (well, except when fighting bosses), so dying isn’t that big a deal, as long as you remember to save often.
Critics weren’t too hot on the game back in 1992, with Entertainment Weekly giving the game a C+ and basically calling out all of the stuff I laid out above (generic, too much grinding, not very fun), and even modern critics aren’t too keen on it either, with the consensus that it is one of the weakest entries in the series. If you’d like to experience the story of Ys III in a better game, Nihon Falcom did remake the game for PSP and PC in 2005 (coming to the US in 2010 & 2012, respectively) that features 3D graphics and an expanded story. It’s much better than the SNES version, no question. Would the Ys series have continued releasing in the U.S. throughout the 90’s if Ys III had been better? Who knows, maybe? In any case, the cult series would eventually get its fair shot in the U.S. after going missing for 13 years, to widespread acclaim, and that’s something we can celebrate.
Ms. Pac-Man (Arcade) – Released Jan. 13th, 1982: Wiki Link
1980’s Pac-Man was a revolution in the video game industry. It was a massive blockbuster that created a new genre (the maze game) and showed the industry that, one, not all successful games need to be shooters, and two, not all players were young men. Namco’s Pac-Man was a sensation that took the world by storm, even going to far as to have the songwriting duo Buckner & Garcia release a hit song called Pac-Man Fever. It shouldn’t come as any surprise, then, that a follow-up game would be released. What is surprising, however, is that it wasn’t made by the original developer, Namco. No, instead the game was developed by a small American company that specialized in creating conversion kits for already popular video games.
The company was called GCC Technologies and they started out as a company that would mod, or convert, existing arcade games into new versions. Their most prominent conversion was for Missile Command, called Super Missile Attack, however this led to wrath of the biggest video game company in America at the time, Atari, who sued GCC for copyright infringement. GCC would settle the lawsuit with Atari, but as part of the settlement they would no longer be allowed to sell arcade conversion kits, putting their latest conversion for Pac-Man, titled Crazy Otto, into jeopardy. Instead of scrapping the game, GCC would reach out directly to Pac-Man’s North America distributor, Midway, to see if they would be interested in purchasing the rights to the game from GCC. After seeing Crazy Otto, Midway was more than happy to purchase the game, seeing it as a huge opportunity to make money and renew interest in the Pac-Man franchise.
Once Midway became involved they started to re-work the game, changing the sprites to better reflect the ones found in Pac-Man and ultimately changed the name to Super Pac-Man. However, after viewing one of the game’s cutscenes (yes, in 1982 we had cutscenes) a female version of the original Otto character was seen, prompting Midway to rethink their main character. Market studies had already shown that Pac-Man was a huge hit with women, that was part of the game’s massive success, so in order to cater to this new crowd of players, and to keep them coming back to the arcades, Midway changed the game’s character from Pac-Man to Pac-Woman. The title Pac-Woman didn’t really sound that great so it was decided to name her Miss Pac-Man, but because she has a baby with Pac-Man in one of the cutscenes they didn’t want to suggest she was unmarried. This led to the title Mrs. Pac-Man, but that still sounded weird, so they went back to the drawing board one more time and finally landed on Ms. Pac-Man. According to the development team, all of these changes, from Crazy Otto to Super Pac-Man to finally landing on Ms. Pac-Man happened in about the span of 2 and 1/2 weeks.
You’ve likely played Pac-Man (and Ms. Pac-Man) but, just in case you never have, here’s how the game works. In Pac-Man, players move the character around a maze, eating pellets and avoiding ghosts. If the ghosts catch Pac-Man, he’ll die, but if Pac-Man can eat a power pellet he’ll be invincible and can eat the ghosts. Once all the pellets are consumed he will move on to the next stage. Ms. Pac-Man still follows this same formula but, like any good sequel, it finds a way to improve on what came before. In Pac-Man you had one maze to get through, but Ms. Pac-Man had four, three of which had two warp pipes to enter as opposed to the single pipe in Pac-Man. The ghost AI was improved to help make their patterns more difficult to memorize, making the game more challenging (and more likely to make you pop in another quarter). Fruit would bounce and move randomly through the maze instead of staying stationary in the middle, as it would in Pac-Man. Ms. Pac-Man “swoons” by spinning around when she dies, instead of folding in on herself like Pac-Man does. Finally, the orange ghost was renamed Sue, and all of the music and sound effects were brand new.
All this time, though, you might be wondering what the original Pac-Man creators thought of all this. Well, the licensing deal Midway had with Namco was pretty loose, allowing Midway to, essentially, do whatever they wanted with the Pac-Man character in North America. Still, part of the licensing agreement meant that Midway would still need to send things over to Namco for review. According to GCC co-founder Doug Macrae, he received direct feedback from Namco president Masaya Nakamura that he loved the concept, they just thought that Ms. Pac-Man should lose the long hair they gave her. He later went on to say that Namco was quite embarrassed that they didn’t think of the idea of Ms. Pac-Man first, and it’s been reported that Pac-Man’s creator, Toru Iwatani, has never publicly commented on Ms. Pac-Man, either the game or the character. Still, with Namco’s blessing, Ms. Pac-Man hit arcades in January of 1982, hoping to have even a fraction of the success that her “husband” had.
Immediately out the gate Ms. Pac-Man was a smash hit, tearing up the video game sales charts and leading the monthly revenues for just about the entire year of 1982. It was neck and neck with Donkey Kong for highest grossing arcade game of the year, then again in 1983 where it shared the title with Namco’s Pole Position, and was listed among the top 5 highest grossing games of the year in 1984. By 1987, Ms. Pac-Man would gross more than $1.5 billion in arcade revenue, and subsequent home console ports would do phenomenal numbers as well, with the 1991 Sega Genesis being one of the most popular versions, remaining in the top 20 best selling games on the console for most of its lifespan. Critics adored the game and found it to be a huge improvement over Pac-Man, with Ms. Pac-Man being the runner up in the 1983 “Arkies” for the “Best Coin-Op” category, losing to Tron.
Like I mentioned earlier, Namco was pretty upset that they didn’t come up with Ms. Pac-Man first, and Midway, seeing the huge success they had in making their own Pac-Man games, kept churning out unofficial sequels, including Pac-Man Plus, Mr. & Mrs. Pac-Man, Baby Pac-Man, Professor Pac-Man, and Jr. Pac-Man. By 1984 Namco had enough, they were tired of Midway “abusing” the license (and likely not sharing much profit) and took it away from them. GCC Technologies would sue Midway, saying that they were owed royalties for all commercial use of the Ms. Pac-Man character as they were the creators. The ownership of Ms. Pac-Man was in a sort gray area until 2020, when Namco and a company called AtGames entered into a lawsuit regarding the sale of mini Ms. Pac-Man arcade units. The lawsuit would be settled aith AtGames seemingly coming out as the owners of Ms. Pac-Man, maybe? The actual licensees and rights holders to Ms. Pac-Man seem to be confidential and shrouded in mystery, bizarrely. This doesn’t mean, however, that you can’t play the game. On the contrary, if you go to just about any modern arcade that specializes in retro gaming, you’ll find a cabinet. Ms. Pac-Man’s Xbox Love version is available on the Xbox Series X (and XBone and 360), and the game is available on your iPhone. Finally, arcade cabinet replication company 1Up released Ms. Pac-Man in late 2020, which also contained Dig Dug, Galaxian and Super Pac-Man (no, not that Super Pac-Man, the real one). Namco still fails to acknowledge that Ms. Pac-Man is part of the Pac-Man franchise, making no mention of it in their archives and keeping it out of all Namco Museum collections. Still, despite what Namco may try to do to suppress the game’s existence, it has become one of the all-time, greatest video games ever made, continually appearing on “Best of” lists throughout its 40 year life span. A toast to the yellow circle with a bow on her head, Ms. Pac-Man.
One last bit, Ms. Pac-Man also gave us this great clip from the 1992 movie Wayne’s World: