I’m on vacation this week so don’t expect a big write up on everything, I’m pretty much checked out. All that’s on my mind right now is seeing love, seeing time, seeing death, seeing life, seeing tears, seeing sun, seeing stars, and seeing God. Luckily the video game companies appear to have also taken a vacation this week, hooray for everything!
Weird West (PC/PS4/Xbox One) – Releases Mar. 31st
Developed by: WolfEye Studios
Published by: Devolver Digital
“Discover a dark fantasy reimagining of the Wild West where lawmen and gunslingers share the frontier with fantastical creatures. Journey through the story of a group of atypical heroes, written into legend by the decisions you make in an unforgiving land. Each journey is unique and tailored to the actions taken – a series of high stakes adventures where everything counts and the world reacts to the choices you make. Form a posse or venture forth alone into an otherworldly confines of the Weird West and make each legend your own“.
Ikai (PC/PS4/PS5/Switch/Xbox One/Series X|S) – Releases Mar. 29th
Developed by: Endflame
Published by: PM Studios
“Fear and anxiety prevail after the darkest tales from Japanese folklore come to life in this first-person psychological horror game. Set in a feudal era, Ikai revolves around the priestess of a shrine struggling to defeat the spirits of her past and her present“.
In Nightmare (PS4/PS5) – Releases Mar. 29th
Developed by: Magic Fish Studio
Published by: Maximum Games
From the In Nightmare website:
“Closing his heart to reality, our protagonist falls into a deep slumber and awakens in a nightmarish dreamworld. In Nightmare is a narrative-driven horror adventure game combining sneak action with diverse puzzles. It follows a young boy in search for the last hope of love who is working out his own salvation by navigating through his fear“.
Moss: Book II (PSVR) – Releases Mar. 31st
Developed by: Polyarc
Published by: Polyarc
From the Polyarc website:
“Quill is back—and she’s being hunted. Those who seek to unmake this world are desperate for the Glass she holds, and they’ll stop at nothing to claw it from her grasp. But the young hero has a plan of her own, one that could finally end the merciless rule of the Arcane and restore peace to Moss once more. To stand a chance, Quill will need a true partner by her side—and we hope that partner is you. With her, you’ll venture deep inside the hexed castle of the Arcane where dangerous terrain, challenging puzzles, and enemies twisted in fire and steel await. The journey will be trying—filled with triumph and heartbreak alike—but new allies, old friends, and the very nature of the castle itself can offer help along the way. Yet in the end, it is you alone who can lift Quill up to save this world, and together, rise to legend“.
Ports and Re-releases:
Crusader Kings 3 (PS5/Series X|S) – Releases Mar. 29th
There’s nothing better than playing a menu driven, stat heavy strategy game with a controller as you relax on the couch.
Dungeons & Dragons: Dark Sun/Krynn/Ravenloft Series (PC – Steam) – Releases Mar. 29th
These classic D&D Gold Box games that have been available on GOG for several years are just now coming to Steam. I hope they have good trading cards.
Death Stranding – Director’s Cut (PC) – Releases Mar. 30th
The gorgeous PS5 version of Death Stranding is now making its way to the PC where it will, probably, look even better.
Honestly, everything in the “Top Releases” section could be down here. The stuff coming out are all really small, niche games that just don’t fill me with much excitement. Still, I bet there are a couple of great games here, I just doubt I’ll ever get around to playing them.
- Abermore (PC) – Releases Mar. 29th
- Coromon (PC/Switch) – Releases Mar. 31st
- FixFox (PC) – Releases Mar. 31st
- Glitchhikers: The Spaces Between (PC) – Releases Mar. 31st
- Space Voyage: EP1 – A BIG Soviet Adventure (PC) – Releases Mar. 31st
- tERRORbane (PC/Switch) – Releases Apr. 1st
Notable Releases from 10, 20 and 30 years ago:
Sine Mora (Xbox 360) – Released Mar. 21st, 2012: Wiki Link
Notable Film Release: Wrath of the Titans – Starring Sam Worthington, Rosamund Pike, and Bill Nighy
Notable Album Release: Joyce Manor – Of All Things I Will Soon Grow Tired
Co-developed by Hungarian developer Digital Reality and Japanese developer Grasshopper Manufacture, Sine Mora (Latin for “without delay”) is a side scrolling shoot ’em up that is a love letter to the genre. The game’s director/writer/designer, Theodore Reiker, listed out several bullet-hell games from the past, including Battle Garegga, Einhander, and Under Defeat, as their main source of inspiration. Their goal was to take 30 years of SHMUP knowledge and put it into one game. The story of Sine Mora is told from two different perspectives and time periods; one focuses on a father taking revenge against the Empire who executed his son, while the other focuses on the last remaining survivors of a race of people that were eradicated by the Empire. As you play through the game you will revisit the same stage more than once, with appropriate decay being added to indicate the passage of time. Unlike typical bullet-hell shooters, Sine Mora does not have a health bar, instead, each level has a time limit. If you get hit, time is subtracted, if you shoot down an enemy, time is added. With a variable difficulty scale from normal to insane, your time playing Sine Mora can either last for a long time or be over almost instantly.
Sine Mora was first published by Microsoft and released on the Xbox Live Arcade for the 360. Critics had high praise for the game, particularly for the art style, with enemy designs by Mahiro Maeda who worked on Evangelion, and for the score by famed composer Akira Yamaoka who had previously worked on the Silent Hill series. Critics were quick to note that the game’s story was quite confusing because of the dual storylines, saying that it was hard to follow. Not to mention that the player would often need to read walls of text due to the voice acting being done in Hungarian, with this text only appearing on screen for a brief period of time. In the end, though, these flaws were easily dismissed because Sine Mora was still incredibly well designed and offered a ton of replayability due to its multiple game modes. Sine Mora would eventually come to the PC, PS3, PS Vita, mobile devices and Ouya, before an expanded version would release on PS4, Switch, and Xbox One. Sine Mora is a fantastic shoot ’em up that highlights some of the best aspects of the genre, yet I feel like it is still an underrated, hidden gem. If you’ve never played this game then I implore you to check it out.
Dungeon Siege (PC) – Released Apr. 5th, 2002: Wiki Link
Following the release of the critically acclaimed RTS game Total Annihilation in 1997, designer Chris Taylor left the company he worked for, Cavedog Entertainment, and started his own company, Gas Powered Games. Joined by several of his colleagues from Cavedog, Taylor and his team wanted to go in a different direction after seemingly conquering the RTS world, opting to make a RPG inspired by some of their recent favorites like Baldur’s Gate and Ultima VIII, with the biggest inspiration coming from Blizzard’s Diablo. Taylor was enamored with Diablo and felt like it found a way to take these idiosyncratic, stat heavy CRPGs of the 80’s and early 90’s, and turn them into a user friendly, easy to learn action game. His idea would turn into Gas Powered Games’ first title, Dungeon Siege. Development began in earnest just after the company was founded in 1998, with an ambitious goal of having it completed in two years.
Using Diablo as a template, Taylor wanted to strip out even MORE of the deep RPG/statistical elements of that game, hoping Dungeon Siege would be embraced by a more mainstream audience. The writing team was instructed to make quests simple and easy to understand, not wanting players to get bogged down with superfluous lore. There was, however, a huge game bible that detailed the world and its inhabitants, but this was only used internally to help the designers and writers get a sense for how things should look, where locations for certain places were, and what the basic goal of each quest would be. Taylor was convinced that having interesting and varied gameplay was more important than having a massive, convoluted story. He was well aware that the simple “save the world from an ultimate evil” plot had been done to death, but he knew that the audience he wanted to court was going to find that storyline to be all the motivation they needed to finish the game.
In keeping with the philosophy of making the game systems easy to understand, player classes were eliminated. Instead of choosing fighter, wizard, or ranger, players could tailor their character to whatever style best suited them by choosing how to attack. If you wanted a fighter character you could attack with melee weapons, leveling up that stat; if you wanted to be a wizard you could choose to use spells, leveling those up to gain access to new ones; if you wanted to be a ranger then you could equip a bow and level that up. If the idea of trying to juggle leveling up each style seems like too much to handle, players would eventually gain AI controlled allies that would specialize in a certain class.
As I mentioned earlier, the plot of Dungeon Siege is fairly generic. You start the game as a farmhand who’s village is attacked by a group of monsters called the Krug. Grabbing the nearest weapon, you must make your way through the village and the surrounding wilderness, seeking help from the nearby town of Stonebridge. Once there, you discover that the Krug siege on your village is part of a larger nefarious plan, one that has dire consequences for all of humanity. While not quite noticeable at first, the further into Dungeon Siege you get, you start to notice that the game has never stopped to load new areas. That is because all of Dungeon Siege takes place on one massive map. Not quite open world, as there’s no real need to go back to where you came from (another note from Taylor about making the game more accessible), but impressive in that you never feel like you’re waiting for the game to catch up to you.
With so many ambitious ideas being added to the game, it was only a matter of time before the delays started. It only took the team at Gas Powered Games one year to figure out that they would not be able to meet their initial two year goal, so it was decided to have the game out in four years, however, in order to reach that date the vast majority of the company would work 12-14 hour days, including most weekends, to meet this deadline. Crunch was a major issue on Dungeon Siege and, sadly, it was a practice that wouldn’t be going away anytime soon. The crunch, however, paid off, because Dungeon Siege was a massive hit with both players and critics. High praise was given to the game’s graphics (considered some of the best of the year), the game’s huge environment, the sound design and score (done by Jeremy Soule), and there was a general sense that Dungeon Siege was a competent competitor to Diablo.
It wasn’t all good points, though, as critics were dissatisfied with the story, noting that it felt generic and uninspired. They were also highly critical of the character progression, saying that letting players choose their build through gameplay was a novel idea, but the way Dungeon Siege employed it wasn’t good enough, as most fights would eventually devolve into melee brawls, making a ranged build pointless. Still, despite these criticisms, Dungeon Siege would go on to sell nearly 2 million copies over the course of the decade. With a robust mod community, the game was flush with new content, though a sequel was eventually released in 2006, followed by a third entry (with Taylor only serving in an advisory role) in 2011 (read about it here). Aside from Dungeon Siege, Gas Powered Games would have another hit series, Supreme Commander, but would eventually fold after some tough years. Dungeon Siege is a great game, but is 100% of its time. The game is pretty ugly by today’s standards and, like I said about Dungeon Siege III, it’s just a kind of forgettable game. If you’d like to play it, though, you can easily get a copy through Steam for pretty cheap, so why not?
Wizards & Warriors III – Kuros: Visions of Power (NES) – Released Mar. 1992: Wiki Link
Ten years before the release of Dungeon Siege, the third entry in the Wizards & Warriors series was also experimenting with player roles. Developer Zippo Games, led by brothers Ste and John Pickford, had seen major success with the previous Wizards & Warriors game, Ironsword, that rights holder Rare contracted them to make the third game. The Pickford brothers were big fans of Rare’s Tim and Chris Stamper, another set of brothers, and their handful of PC games that released in the early 1980’s, including Atic Atac and Saberwulf. Taking a cue from Atic Atac, the Pickford’s opted to have Kuros take on multiple roles in the games. Previously, Kuros had been limited to just being a knight, but in Visions of Power, Kuros had the ability to disguise himself as three different classes, Knight, Thief, and Wizard. Each class had a different costume that would allow Kuros to bypass various restrictions and access different areas of the game map, such as being able to pass by a fellow thief in a cave in order to access the underground area. This gave Visions of Power a non-linear, Metroidvania, style of game play, and it was a dream come true for the Pickford’s to make a game in this style.
Being a late era NES game, the team at Zippo was able to fully utilize the power of the system, with superb graphics for the era, a large map full of enemies and secrets, as well as more detailed and unique sprites. However, like we talked about with Dungeon Siege, the team at Zippo bit off more than they could chew and it became clear that, not only would they not finish the game on time, but they wouldn’t be able to survive as a company. In a tough decision, Zippo Games sold themselves to Rare who would change their name to Rare Manchester and assert full control over the company and its properties. After looking up to the Stamper’s, the Pickford brothers and their employees were disheartened by the treatment they received from Rare. I don’t see much about the specifics but it must have been pretty awful because within a short amount of time the entire staff of Zippo Games/Rare Manchester left the company, leaving just one programmer to finish the game in his spare time. This final product was sent to Rare, along with a cover designed by Ste Pickford, where the game was “retooled” by the company.
When Wizards & Warriors III – Kuros: Visions of Power released, the title screen carried a message, in huge letters, “Revised by Tim Stamper”, a kind of middle finger to the Pickford’s, two guys that looked up to Stamper and his brother Chris. To add insult to injury, Ste’s cover design was completely ignored and a new one was commissioned by Rare. This was all happening in the background, to the average critic and player, none of this was really known, it’s not like we had hard hitting journalists covering the industry like we do today. The critical reception to Visions of Power was mostly positive, with critics calling the game another Rare classic. The game was praised for its graphics and non-linear gameplay, however it was strongly chastised for its lack of passwords or a save feature, two things that had been present in the previous games. This would be the last Wizards & Warriors game, with the franchise being put on permanent hiatus by publisher Acclaim, the IP owner. When the company went bankrupt in 2004, their assets were sold to a Toronto based company called Throwback Entertainment, but as of this posting they haven’t made any announcements about reviving the series, or porting the older titles to modern machines. Physical carts are very expensive and hard to come by, so if you want to check out this hidden gem I recommend emulation.