There’s not much this week to talk about in terms of new games, so just dispatch the last alarms and hand out the last few charms, because there’s no surprises here.
Cat Café Manager (PC/Switch) – Releases Apr. 14th
Developed by: Roost Games
Published by: Freedom Games
If you’ve ever dreamed of opening up and designing your own Cat Café then the team at Roost Game has you covered. in Cat Café Manager, players find themselves moving into a small, mountain town where they have been tasked with taking over and running their grandmother’s cat café. One part The Sims and one part Harvest Moon, you will have to rebuild/maintain the café, as well as explore the town, meeting and helping out the various oddballs who live there. Is it enough to pull you away from Elden Ring? Depends on how much you like cats, I guess.
TAITO Milestones (Switch) – Releases Apr. 15th
Developed by: Taito/Hamster Corporation
Published by: ININ Games
Amazon helpfully reminded me that I pre-ordered this, so I am helpfully reminding you all that it exists. Most of the titles in this collection don’t ring any kind of bells for me and I kind of dig it for that. We aren’t getting another retread of old games that we’ve all bought a dozen times in the past, instead we’re getting what appear to be fairly obscure titles from the Taito backlog.
Ports and Re-releases:
13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim (Switch) – Releases Apr. 12th
One of my top five games of 2020, the brilliant 13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim is hitting the Switch this week. Combining a visual novel with a tower defense strategy game, 13 Sentinels can feel like it is giving you whiplash at times with its gameplay. Not just that, but the story is absolutely bonkers, with time travel, giant robots, rogue AI, and alternate realities, just to name a few of the many sci-fi tropes this game throws at you. The Switch release also has new content, though this is just new armaments for your giant robots, not anything related to the story. If you’ve never played this then I highly recommend giving it a shot (though the PS4 version might run better).
Nobody Saves The World (PS4/PS5/Switch) – Releases Apr. 14th
Nobody Saves the World is fun for two hours, then it sucks, hard. Maybe you’ll like it?
Road 96 (PS4/PS5/Xbox One/Series X|S) – Releases Apr. 14th
Hey, remember that road trip video game that had a trailer in, like, five consecutive Nintendo Direct videos; no? That’s okay, don’t worry about it.
Back 4 Blood: Tunnels of Terror (PC/PS4/PS5/Xbox One/Series X|S) – Releases Apr. 12th
I guess Back 4 Blood did pretty good if they’re continuing to support the game with new content. I assume the stuff in the image above is exciting to fans of the game, especially the guy who has all those pockets on his jacket. Can’t have enough pockets, I always say.
Hearthstone: Voyage to the Sunken City (Android/iOS/PC) – Releases Apr. 12th
This is something like the 25th expansion for Hearthstone, Blizzard’s wildly popular collectible card game that came out in 2014. This set is themed around water and the titular sunken city. A new minion type called “Naga” has been added to the game as well as a new keyword, Colossal, which allows players to summon a minion into play regardless of how many minions were already brought into play that turn. Someone out there just lost their fucking mind.
Notable Releases from 10, 20 and 30 years ago:
Fez (Xbox 360) – Released Apr. 13th, 2012: Wiki Link
Notable Film Release: The Cabin in the Woods – Starring Kristen Connolly, Chris Hemsworth, Fran Kranz, Richard Jenkins, and Bradley Whitford
Notable Album Release: Jason Mraz – Love Is a Four Letter Word
One of the most high profile indie games of the previous console generation, Fez is a brilliant puzzle platformer that burned far too bright before collapsing under its own weight. The story of Fez’s development is covered extensively in the documentary Indie Game: The Movie, which also focused heavily on its charismatic and somewhat neurotic co-creator, Phil Fish. It’s hard to talk about Fez without also talking about Fish because the guy is both fascinating and unpredictable. At times, during the development and release of Fez, Fish’s own comments and actions would overshadow the game itself, but was also probably a major contributing factor in the game’s success.
Conceived in 2007, Fez started out as a collaboration between two unknown Canadian game developers, Phil Fish and Shawn McGrath. McGrath had the idea to take a three dimensional cube and affix 2D elements to each side. Players would then rotate the cube in order to solve some kind of puzzle. In this early stage of development, Fish mostly contributed the art for the game. As things began to progress, Fish wanted to incorporate platforming into the game, making it less of a puzzle game and more of an adventure. This caused conflict to arise between the two men, leading to McGrath leaving the project rather quickly. Determined to keep going, Fish would work on the game in his spare time, continuing to evolve his vision of a 3D/2D puzzle platformer. Reaching out on the website DeviantArt, Fish sent out a request for someone to help program the game. The first person to respond was a young programmer named Renaud Bédard, a computer science student who lived in Montreal, the same as Fish. The two hit it off and soon Bédard became lead programmer on Fez.
Fez was first announced in July of 2007, with a trailer following in October of the same year. The short, 48 second clip doesn’t show much, but it does hint at what Fez would have to offer. The idea that you could take a seemingly 2D platformer and rotate the entire game to explore it in three dimensions was astounding. If you watch the video above it appears that you kind of have free control over the game’s camera, however this would not be in the final product, as the stage can only be rotated to each individual side, there’s no way to stop it mid rotation. The trailer caught the eye of a musician named Jason DeGroot whom Fish met at E3 in 2006. DeGroot was originally set to write the game’s score and create the sound effects, but a falling out with Fish led to his early departure, at which time the chiptune artist Disasterpeace was brought it to compose the score, with sound effects created by a man named Brandon McCartin.
In 2008, Fez would get noticeable attention at both the Independent Games Festival, as well as the Game Developers Conference. Attendees to both shows were blown away by what they were seeing from Fish and Bédard, with Fez winning multiple awards, increasing the public’s fascination with the game. At this point Fish was still working for a major studio, Artificial Mind and Movement, but the demands of his full0time job were getting in the way of his development of Fez, so he quit his job. Using a loan from the Canadian government, Fish was able to start his own development company, Polytron Corporation, to continue work on Fez. In 2009, after riding a wave of good press and hype, Microsoft contacted Polytron and agreed to publish the game on the Xbox Live Arcade for a 2010 release. Things were looking up.
Like a lot of games we’ve talked about here, Fez was far more ambitious of a project than Fish and his team had anticipated. The promised 2010 release date had passed and, by the beginning of 2011, the government loan had dried up. In order to keep Polytron afloat for the next three month, Fish resorted to asking friends and family for money. It was around this time that he felt like cancelling the entire project and going back to a regular day job, however, another indie developer in Quebec, Trapdoor, offered to assist Polytron with their operating costs. Trapdoor had recently become flush with cash as they signed a publishing deal with EA for their game Warp, the caveat being that Trapdoor would gain a percentage of Fez’s earnings. This partnership with Trapdoor saved both Polytron and Fez, with Fish stating that if it wasn’t for them the game would most likely not exist.
Around this time, Fish was being filmed and interviewed by a documentary crew. The interviews and day to day life of Fish would be part of a film called Indie Game: The Movie (it’s fantastic, I highly recommend it). While the film would also feature interviews and the day to day lives of three other men (yes, men, of course), Braid’s Jonathan Blow, and Super Meat Boy’s Edmund McMillen and Tommy Refenes, it was Fish who would become the movie’s major star and point of focus. In a famous scene from the film, Fish can be seen at the 2011 PAX East show demoing Fez. The game, however, would keep crashing as people were playing it, often at the very beginning of their playthrough. With no end date in sight, Fez was looking more and more like it might become vaporware, with some gaming outlets calling it the indie Duke Nukem Forever. However, by October of 2011, Fez was mostly complete, with a full game playthrough being shown behind closed doors at the GameCity Festival in England. Soon after, in February of 2012, Polytron would submit Fez for certification. For five years, Phil Fish has poured everything of himself into Fez, saying that he felt burnt out by the entire experience and adding that he felt like developing the game had affected both his mental and physical health. Despite starting in 2007, Fish went on to say that the game was completely scrapped and redone in 2009, noting that nothing from those first two years made it into the final version of the game. On April 13th, 2012, Fez would finally release, exclusively on the Xbox 360.
The critical reception to Fez was immediate, widespread acclaim from not just the gaming press, but major outlets like The New York Times which called the game a loving tribute to the 1980’s that seemed entirely devoted to the golden age of Nintendo. Other critics would also point out the Nintendo influences, stating that Fez felt like it could fit into the Super Mario franchise, with how much attention was paid to the game’s details, as levels felt like toy diorama’s that were lovingly handcrafted to perfection. Funny enough, though, Fish would famously reject an offer to put Fez on Nintendo’s WiiWare service due to how unfriendly a platform it was to work with and its lack of suitable developer options. This also helps segway into an issue Fish also had with Microsoft and their developer services. Famously, again, Fish would get into a public spat with Microsoft and their process for patches. Microsoft had a policy of charging developers to release new patches that publishers like Activision and EA could easily add to the game’s bottom line, but was not something that small indie developers/publishers could do. Despite having a game breaking bug in the patch, Fish refused to pay Microsoft to patch in a fix, leading to Microsoft eventually dropping the patch fees in 2013.
When I mentioned Fez eventually crashing down under its own weight, this mostly has to do with Phil Fish’s personality. With the release of Indie Game: The Movie also in 2012, the portrait of Fish was not necessarily flattering, showing him to be neurotic, self absorbed, and a bit of a prick. “Misunderstood genius” is commonly used to describe people like Fish, maybe he is a genius, he’s certainly got a great eye for aesthetic, but he’s so wrapped up in hiw own bubble that he looks like an asshole. In a now infamous GDC panel in 2012 for Indie Game: The Movie, Fish and the panel were asked what they thought about games made in Japan to which Fish replied “…your games just suck“. The Twitter-verse was quick to label him a racist, causing him to clarify his stance to say that only modern Japanese games were bad, but not all of them. He then went on to say that fellow indie dev Jonathan Blow also criticized the state of modern Japanese games but wasn’t receiving nearly as much pushback for it.
I have to think, that because of the way Fish treated people, talked to people, and generally presented himself as this kind of arrogant wunderkind, is what caused the backlash to be so severe. This was also brought on by Fish’s distaste for the Gamergate movement, drawing the ire of that crowd, super obese or sickly thin, neckbeard buffoons who typically worship Japanese games and developers like they are gods (I assume). Fish would find himself constantly harassed by people in the movement, eventually leading to his doxxing. The constant negativity directed towards him by Gamergate, major publishers, and even the gaming press, took a major toll on Fish, leading him to publicly announce his withdrawal from the games industry and the cancellation of Fez II. However, Fish still seems to hold some kind of position at Polytron (maybe?) and his still part of the Kokoromi game development collective in Canada. Fez, meanwhile, is a great video game about a little dude in a fez named Gomez. He travels around a 2D/3D hybrid world and collects golden cubes. It is very fun and you can play it on just about every modern console in existence, as well as on PC.
Spider-Man: The Movie (PS2/GameCube/Xbox/PC/GBA) – Released Apr. 16th, 2002: Wiki Link
We spent a lot of time talking about Fez, and there’s a lot to say about Zelda, so I’m just going to get Spider-Man out of the way. After years in development hell, Sony pictures finally announced that a big screen adaptation of Marvel’s most popular character, Spider-Man, would be hitting theatres in May of 2002. Like a lot of popular movies, Spider-Man was set to have its own video game adaptation, as it was seen as another piece of marketing for the film. Activision, who held the video game license for Spider-Man, put the game in the hands of a then newly acquired developer, Treyarch, who had just gotten done porting Neversoft’s Spider-Man game to the Dreamcast and PC. Treyarch would kinda-sorta base their game on the upcoming film, even scoring Toby Maguire and Willem Dafoe to reprise their roles as Spider-Man/Peter Parker and The Green Goblin/Norman Osbourne.
Critics were impressed with the game, calling the best Spider-Man game ever made, though they were quick to point out that the level design and brawling were subpar, the voice acting was atrocious, the camera was a nuisance, and it was entirely too easy and too short; you know, the best Spider-Man game ever made. The game loosely followed the plot of the film, until it deviates wildly out to left field, with Spider-Man facing off against Shocker, The Vulture, The Scorpion, and on the Xbox only, Kraven the Hunter, before taking on the Green Goblin and finishing out the film’s climax. Players LOVED the game, probably due to the fact that the film, which would release two weeks later, was a massive hit in theatres. Today, Spider-Man: The Movie is nowhere to be found, making retro game stores or emulation your only choice when it comes to playing the game. I wouldn’t bother, though, as the recent Spider-Man from Insomniac for the PS4 is, hands down, the best Spider-Man game ever made, and it has great voice acting, tight brawling, a camera that works properly, and is so well designed that the city feels like an organic, living city. Man, this 2002 Spider-Man game sucks, why are we even talking about it?
The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past (SNES) – Released Apr. 13th, 1992: Wiki Link
While the Super Nintendo’s launch library had some amazing games like Super Mario World, and was already home to absolute classics like Final Fantasy II/IV and Contra III, I don’t think you needed to own the console until this game we’re about to talk about came out. I’m referring to one of the greatest video games of all time, The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past. Developed by Nintendo EAD , directed by Takashi Tezuka and produced by Shigeru Miyamoto, A Link to the Past is a masterpiece on every level. The graphics are beautiful, the music and sound are iconic, the overworld map and dungeon designs are about as perfect as you can get, and the sense of wonder, discovery, and exploration was an artistic and technological triumph for 1992. While I often attribute my love of video games to the first time I played Final Fantasy II/IV, but that was just a primer, my OBSESSION with video games can be placed squarely at the feet of A Link to the Past.
I remember drawing my own overworld maps as a kid, using my grandma’s garden and front yard as a template, calling various flower beds, potted plants, and birdbaths the dungeons, with her deck being a massive desert to explore. What was it about this game that inspired me and countless others? Like I mentioned earlier, A Link to the Past was just full of wonder and surprises, very similar to how the first Zelda game was on the NES. The second game in the series, The Adventure of Link, was a major departure for the series, having more in common with RPGs and side scrolling platformers, so A Link to the Past was a return to form for the series. The game also felt huge, with several different biomes to explore and, in a twist, an entirely new world map to uncover. One of the main gameplay mechanics of A Link to the Past has players switching between the light world and the dark world, with hidden secrets, treasure, and even entire areas of the map inaccessible without using your power to move between worlds.
Development on A Link to the Past began in 1988 and was originally going to be made on the NES. However, it was quickly discovered that development would take too long to long to complete and the game would arrive either just before or right after the launch of the Super Nintendo. The decision was made to switch gears and move the game to Nintendo’s latest piece of hardware. In the early stages of the game, Miyamoto wanted to have a party of characters which would include Link, a fighter, as well as a magic user and “a girl”, whatever that meant. Due to development time and technical limitations, the party was scrapped and Link would find himself on another solo mission. The general premise of the game is that this is set several hundred years before the events of The Legend of Zelda on the NES, with this Link and Zelda being direct descendants of the characters in the NES games.
One stormy night, Link’s uncle is summoned to the castle through a telepathic message from princess Zelda. Fearing that his uncle may be hurt, Link goes after him and finds him lying on the ground, gravely injured. Taking his uncle’s sword and shield, Link goes deeper into the castle, rescuing the princess and taking her to a church sanctuary to hide. He goes on a quest to retrieve the Master Sword by first finding three pendants. Once completed, Link fights against an evil wizard but, after defeating him, Link learns that an even greater evil is at play, with seven maidens trapped in the Dark World, used in a ritual to bring about the evil desires of the evil Gannon. Using a multitude of unique and interesting items like the fire & ice wands, the hookshot, the hammer, and more, Link goes on an epic adventure that still gives me goosebumps whenever I think about it.
When it released in 1992, A Link to the Past was both a critical and commercial smash. In Japan, where it was released in November of 1991, it was so popular that it became the best selling game of the year in that country with only one month on the market. In the U.S., it would be the third best selling game of the year, coming in behind Sonic the Hedgehog 2 and the home port of Street Fighter II. In Nintendo Power magazine, it held the number one spot on the top games list for the SNES for five consecutive years. A Link to the Past was the first near perfect score in Famitsu, receiving 39 out of 40 points (the first perfect score game would be Ocarina of Time). It would receive a perfect score from Dragon and GamePro, and be called best sequel of 1992 by EGM, and receive Co-Game of the Year from the Chicago Tribune, sharing it with Street Fighter II.
Over the years, A Link to the Past would find itself on several “best of” lists, including being called the greatest video game of all time by Next Generation in 1999, Entertainment Weekly in 2006, and Popular Mechanics in 2019. Nintendo would release a sort-of sequel for the Satellaview in Japan called Ancient Stone Tablets, a timed, episodic game where players had to finish dungeons and explore the overworld map before the broadcast would end. A Game Boy Advance port of A Link to the Past would include a game called Four Swords, a multiplayer version of the game in which four players would play as their own version of Link, solving puzzles. A spiritual sequel called A Link Between Worlds would release on the 3DS in 2013, evoking the same kind of spirit and energy as A Link to the Past, however it would not be directly tied to the game. While Nintendo has a sort of poor track record when it comes to game preservation, they do tend to make their most popular first party games easily accessible. Over the years, A Link to the Past would find its way to just about every Nintendo console starting with the Game Boy Advance, with ports to the Wii, Wii U, 3DS, and Switch (through the online service). A Link to the Past is such an iconic game that I’m sure most of you out there have played it, but if for some reason you STILL haven’t given this game a try, what are you waiting for?!