WOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!! VIDEO GAMES ARE BACK, BAY-BEEEEE!!! That’s right, no more DLC as the top game of the week, no more shitty ports clogging up the top releases, we’ve finally got REAL stuff to play. As the top authority on these things, I am declaring that the 2022 video game season has officially started. Welcome to the new year, ladies and gentlemen, it’s glorious.
Tom Clancy’s Rainbow Six: Extraction (PC/PS4/PS5/Stadia/Xbox One/Series X|S) – Releases Jan. 20th
Developer: Ubisoft Montreal
This week’s top game, Rainbow Six: Extraction, is a multiplayer, co-op shooter where you must infiltrate enemy territory, completing tasks before your team is wiped out. Typically, in the Rainbow Six series, your enemies would be human terrorists from “someplace” but now, in Extraction, you will be facing off against an alien race that wants to enslave/rule over humanity. I can assure you, that when aliens invade, the first people I’m going to call are my local police department’s SWAT team. Originally this game was slated to arrive in 2020, but after a less than optimal response to Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon: Breakpoint, Ubisoft decided to retool all of their games, delaying Extraction’s release. Then, of course, 2020 brought us the worldwide pandemic which not only delayed the game even further, but also caused a name change, as this was originally going to be called Quarantine. Everyone hates Ubisoft right now and they must know this, because the game is launching as a budget title for the low price of $39.99, with owners able to give free, full copies of the game to up to two of their friends. Ayyy, come one, Ubisoft is cool now, right? Right?
Nobody Saves the World (PC/Xbox One/Series X|S) – Releases Jan. 18th
Developer: DrinkBox Studios
Publisher: DrinkBox Studios
Woah, two Xbox console exclusives in one week? it’s like they’re a real video game company trying to stay competitive in the marketplace or something. The first is Nobody Saves The World, a top down RPG from the creators of Guacamelee. Taking on the role of a featureless Nobody, players will have the ability to transform into 15+ different characters as they go on a quest to find a missing wizard and save the world.
Pupperazzi (PC/Xbox One/Series X|S) – Releases Jan. 20th
Developer: Sundae Month
Publisher: Kitfox Games
You get to take pictures of dogs in this Xbox console exclusive; do I need to say more?
Windjammers 2 (PC/PS4/PS5/Stadia/Switch/Xbox One/Series X|S) – Releases Jan. 20th
Woah, totally tubular, dudes! The most badical, frisbee throwing extreme sport is back; righteous! Is today the greatest day you’ve ever known? Maybe, just don’t tear your heart out before you get out.
Hitman Trilogy (PC/PS4/PS5/Xbox One/Series X|S) – Releases Jan. 20th
After a one year exclusive deal with the Epic Games Store, Hitman 3 is finally coming to Steam, with all three games available in one package. It’s a fantastic series, and if you haven’t gotten around to playing Hitman 3, man, you need to check it out. More fun stuff for Steam players, the VR mode for Hitman 3 is now going to be available on PC, finally leaving the confines of the PlayStation.
Blackwind (PC/PS4/PS5/Switch/Xbox One/Series X|S) – Releases Jan. 20th
RPGolf Legends (PC/Switch) – Releases Jan. 20th
Strange Horticulture (PC) – Releases Jan. 21st
Notable Releases from 10, 20 and 30 years ago:
Final Fantasy XIII-2 (PS3/Xbox 360) – Released Jan. 31st, 2012: Wiki Link
2010’s Final Fantasy XIII, while a massive financial success, was seen as a bit of a let down. Fans were unhappy with the linear gameplay and lack of deep exploration of the world, and its poor reception was not good news for Square Enix who envisioned FF13 as the start of a whole series they called Fabula Nova Crystallis. This series was to contain three future Final Fantasy XIII games (including Versus XIII which morphed into XV), as well as a hand held title called Final Fantasy Type-0. Development on the first XIII sequel began in March or April 2011 and was envisioned as a darker story than its predecessor. The team was very much aware of how Final Fantasy X-2 took that game in a very silly direction, tonally, and they didn’t want to have a repeat of that here. They were so aware of this, in fact, that an initial idea to have the game only contain the characters of Serah and Mog was scrapped due to the fact that their dialogue ended up being too cute. To counter this, a new male character named Noel was added to the story, helping to cut down on the whimsy.
When coming up with the game’s story, the team wanted to break it up into short sections, or episodes, similar to a television program. This idea of making the game flow like a TV series even made its way to the title, as the game was originally referred to as Final Fantasy XIII: Season 2, before going with the more traditional Final Fantasy XIII-2. The game opens with Lightning in the city of Valhalla where a huge battle is going on. Giant beasts are attacking and Lightning uses her magic, as well as help from various Eidolons, in an attempt to stop a mad man named Caius Ballad. The game uses this opening scene to teach you the basics of combat and it is, for the most part, one big cutscene/tutorial. Near the end of the fight, Lightning calls out to a young man who has warped onto the battlefield from another dimension. She gives him a moogle named Mog (who can transform into a sword/bow) and tells him to enter another portal and connect with her sister, Serah. Noel jumps into this new portal and finds himself transported to another time and space, the town of New Bodham in the year 3 AF.
Serah, who we first see sleeping, is having a nightmare in which she sees Lightning fighting in Valhalla. She is confused by the dream and thinks that, perhaps, maybe it was instead a vision. When she tells others about it they don’t believe her and, in a shocking twist, reveal that Lightning has been missing since the end of Final Fantasy XIII. Yes, the ending of XIII is seemingly retconned by XIII-2, which can be very confusing at first, but it soon becomes very clear that something is wrong. Serah remembers Lightning being alive and well at the end of the previous game, but three years later, seemingly overnight, everyone else believes that Lightning is gone, trapped in the crystal that holds Cocoon in place (this all makes more sense if you’ve played FF XIII). Not long after her dream, Noel shows up and meets up with Serah. He tells her that he’s a time traveler, from the year 700 AF, and that Lightning is alive and trapped in Valhalla. Serah’s friends don’t believe him and think he’s giving false hope, but Serah is determined to find Lightning no matter what, following Noel into the portal, ready to go on a journey that will take them across time.
Yes, folks, Final Fantasy XIII-2 is a time travel game, with you moving Serah, Noel, and Mog through various points and locations across time, from as close as 5 AF to as far as 500 AF. This leads to instances where something in one time period is inaccessible, but if you go in to the future, or past, it will suddenly become available to reach. Not only that, but story events will cause some timelines to split, meaning that there is one version of 10 AF where monsters run rampant in a world with no sunlight, and another 10 AF where you’ve ended the time paradox and created an alternate universe where the sun was never blocked out. This ability to travel freely through time period’s was a direct response to player complaints about FF XIII’s linearity. By allowing players to move around, and by making the area maps both more expansive & self-contained, exploration felt more enjoyable and organic.
After the poor fan reception to FF XIII, a lot of thought went into addressing the most common complaints. As noted, the game world was made more open ended and explorable, on top of that, several mini games were added as puzzles, and an entire casino/arcade area was added where you could play multiple games. Another complaint players had about the first game was the lack of NPC interaction so, to address this, the team added in optional side quests that you could partake in for different NPCs in each of the different time periods. The inspiration for this, funny enough, was Rockstar’s Red Dead Redemption and, to go even further with it, you spend a lot of time riding chocobos in FF XIII-2, which was inspired by the horse riding in RDR. With the game ready, the team at Square Enix waited to see how players would react.
After its release in Japan, magazine Famitsu gave Final Fantasy XIII-2 one of its rare perfect scores, making it only the second game in the series to do so (the previous was Final Fantasy XII). The magazine’s editors were very happy with the changes made to the game, calling it a big step up from XIII. In Japan, the game was a phenomenon, and it cleaned up at their various industry awards at the end of the year. In the West, critics were similarly impressed with the changes that Square Enix made in the sequel but, unlike the critics in Japan, they thought the story was confusing and bizarre. Playing through it, I’m about 22 hours in, and I have a pretty good sense of what’s happening, but it isn’t easiest thing to follow, and I’m hoping it has a somewhat neat bow to wrap it all up; fingers crossed.
After its initial release, three DLC episodes were released that promised to wrap up the game’s story (shit), with Square Enix saying that they didn’t really have any plans to expand on the story they started in XIII. However, in August of 2012 a second sequel was teased, and in 2013 we got Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII. This would conclude the story, putting a bow on the entire saga. If you’d like to play Final Fantasy XIII-2 today, you can! The game is available on the Xbox One/Series X|S, where it is backwards compatible, or you can purchase it on PC through Steam (although reviews call the port atrocious). As a big fan of FF XIII I’m pretty biased, so I love this game and whole heartedly endorse it. If you didn’t play XIII can you still enjoy this? I mean, yeah, maybe, it isn’t super dependent on the story of XIII, but certain characters and moments will hit harder if you had played it. Again, though, I totally think you should spend the 70+ hours playing XIII, then the 30+ hours with XIII-2, and the 10+ hours with its DLC, and then wrap it up with another 30+ hours in Lightning Returns. Trust me, you’ll have a great time.
Lastly, if you take nothing else away from this write up, you should at least give this amazing version of the chocobo theme a listen. You won’t be disappointed:
PaRappa The Rapper 2 (PS2) – Released Jan. 21st, 2002: Wiki Link
Two weeks ago we discussed the release or Rez, a title that existed because of the rhythm game genre that was kickstarted in 1996/97 by a dog in a beanie that had some sick ass rhymes; PaRappa The Rapper. Created by Masaya Matsuura and Rodney Greenblat, the game was a smash hit that helped create a (sort of) new genre by having players tap buttons in time with the music. Following the success of PaRappa, the team at developer NanaOn-Sha put out a follow-up game about a completely different character, 1999’s Um Jammer Lammy. It was well received, but players (and Greenblat) missed their favorite rappin’ dog, and the third game in the series would, again, feature PaRappa in the main role.
Using the same call & response technique from their previous two games, PaRappa finds himself once again moving from stage to stage, having to rap with various masters. The plot of the game is, to put it bluntly, pretty fucking stupid, with PaRappa winning a lifetime supply of noodles, getting tired of eating them, searching for different food, only to uncover a sinister plot to replace all of the foods in the world with noodles. However, the real story of the game is PaRappa’s quest to become a man so that he can impress his girlfriend, Sunny, but the real, REAL story is about Sunny’s desire to see PaRappa gain confidence, be himself, and be present in their relationship. Underneath all that weirdness is a pretty grounded story about, you know it, believing in yourself.
Unlike the first PaRappa, critics weren’t very impressed with this new game. According to them, the formula was getting stale and they felt like part 2 didn’t add anything new. With little innovation and, according to the critics of the day, very little need for the game to even be on the PS2 because of how “ugly” it looked, PaRappa 2 kind of floundered and, in a way, started to predict the end of these kinds of rhythm games, leaving the door open for other companies, like Harmonix, to usher in the new era (more on that in three years). Personally, PaRappa The Rapper 2 is one of my all-time favorite games. The songs are far more ambitious than those found in the first game, featuring a wide swath of styles. There are moments in this game that make me smile the biggest smile in the world, other moments where I am filled with goosebumps and, you might laugh, but moment that make me cry my eyes out. The only thing I can think is that critics were just really cynical and jaded in 2001. Maybe this game that was all about fun, friendship, and optimism wasn’t the right “vibe” to have after 9/11; I don’t know. PaRappa The Rapper 2 is available on PS4/PS5 as a digital download so please, PLEASE, give this game a try.
In closing, I’ll leave you with two of my favorite tracks (although I love every single song in the game). One is a from a stage, while the other is from a cutscene that plays just before the final stage. I hope you enjoy them.
Bucky O’Hare (NES) – Released Jan. 1992: Wiki Link
If you went up to a kid today and showed them a picture of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles they would probably recognize them, their longevity and constant rebooting has kept them in the cultural zeitgeist since the late 1980’s. However, if you were to show a kid (and probably most adults) a picture of Bucky O’Hare they’d probably give you a blank stare. You see, after the TMNT craze took off in full force, companies were desperate to latch onto any other “cool animal thing” they could find. This is where Battletoads, Street Sharks, SWAT Kats, Biker Mice From Mars, Toxic Crusaders, and dozens of other programs and toy lines spawned. Another one of these properties that got licensed by money hungry corporations was Larry Hama and Michael Golden’s Bucky O’Hare. First appearing in the comic book anthology series Echoes of Futurepast, Bucky O’Hare is a spaceship captain who leads a motley crew of anthropomorphic mammalian characters who are in a war against a race of evil toads.
Hoping to cash in on the Turtle craze, animation studio Sunbow Entertainment licensed the comic and put together a 13 episode, first season. It would debut in December of 1991, along with a toy line from Hasbro and, of course, a brand new video game in January of 1992. Developed and published by Konami, Bucky O’Hare on the NES was a platforming game that was similar in gameplay to Mega Man, with players choosing which level to go to, acquiring a new character/weapon after completing the stage. It was fairly standard platforming, without much innovation, but what makes this game so unique is who was behind it; a core group of developers who would go on to found the company Treasure.
Bucky O’Hare was the first game directed by Masato Maegawa who, at the time, had only worked as a programmer on three other Konami games; Castlevania: The Adventure, Rollergames, and Laser Invasion. Looking back on the game now, some modern critics have drawn parallels between Bucky and Treasure’s kind of frantic level design, where it almost feels like it was slapped together at the last minute with minimal playtesting. To be fair, though, Bucky O’Hare is a pretty easy game, and while its platforming does require skill, there appear to be infinite continues with very generous respawn locations. Critics, however, were not big fans of the endless continues, feeling like it gave the player zero stakes to do well in the game, noting that you could almost walk through entire sections of the game without even firing a single shot (because we clearly need to kill something).
Still, despite this, some critics did find Bucky O’Hare challenging, noting that the early stages can be a cakewalk, while later stages posed some of the toughest challenges on the NES. As a fan of run and gun games, and of Treasure’s fantastic 16-bit output, I really enjoyed Bucky O’Hare and I wish I could go back in time and get a copy of it. I could have seen myself spending hours in front of the TV trying to beat this game. Konami would also release a beat ’em up game for Bucky O’Hare to arcades in late 1992, similar in play style to their TMNT games, but the series, toy line, and video games would all have a short shelf life, as kids just didn’t latch on to the characters in the same way that they did the Ninja Turtles. As you might imagine, Bucky O’Hare is impossible to find today, with no legal way to play it on any modern device, making emulation your only choice here. If you have a few minutes to spare in your day, and you know how to navigate the world of ROMs, then give Bucky O’Hare a chance.
Hey, let’s continue our appreciation of fine music this week by listening to the theme song to the Bucky O’Hare cartoon. I’ve had the line “Bucky! Captain Bucky O’Hare!” stuck in my head for 30 years; now you will too: