It’s not a very exciting week for new releases, sorry, I’ll send a note to the publishers to hurry up and put out some good games. It’s also weird that the big games for the last two weeks have been back to back horror titles. October is still five months away, SMDH. I guess it’s just a little Halloween come early; someone dies tonight, it’s tragic, but at least it’s not you.
Vampire: The Masquerade – Swansong (PC – Epic Games Exclusive/PS4/PS5/Switch/Xbox One/Series X|S) – Releases May 19th
Developed by: Big Bad Wolf
Published by: Nacon
Did you miss out on the vampire LARPing craze of the 1990’s? Don’t worry, that’s what video games are for! Pretend to be a sexy vampire and live out your wildest fantasies, I mean, only if your fantasies involve solving a mysterious gun fight. Guns are pretty sick, right?
Recursive Ruin (PC) – Releases May 17th
Developed by: Bit Rot
Published by: Iceberg Interactive
“A kaleidoscopic narrative puzzle game in which an artist comes to terms with their grief. Explore an infinitely recursive world of strange fractal beauty and solve mind-bending puzzles. Confront the ineffable and chat with your cat in a search for meaning and hope“.
DEADCRAFT (PC/PS4/PS5/Switch/Xbox One/Series X|S) – Releases May 19th
Developed by: Marvelous
Published by: Marvelous/XSEED Games
I was ready to instantly write this off as weird shovelware, but then I saw it was published by XSEED and my interest was piqued. You play as a half-human/half-zombie that seems to have a bone to pick with the last remaining human survivors of a zombie apocalypse. You will recruit fellow zombies to help you concoct gadgets and other things to help you breach the walls of the human stronghold as you attempt to wipe them out for good.
Cotton Fantasy (PS4/Switch) – Releases May 20th
Developed by: Success
Published by: ININ Games
I find this art style hideously ugly, but I can’t pass up a SHMUP.
Dolmen (PC/PS4/PS5/Xbox One/Series X|S) – Releases May 20th
Developed by: Massive Work Studio
Published by: Prime Matter
Eddie Murphy was really good in that Dolmen movie. This game, however, seems to differ wildly from the source material. Maybe this is based on an unused script for the next Petey Wheatstraw movie?
Ports and Re-releases:
Apex Legends (Android/iOS) – Releases May 17th
Enjoy Apex Legends on your mobile device for the two weeks it has a decent player base before everyone just goes back to playing Fortnite.
Furi – Onnamusha (PC/PS4/PS5/Switch/Xbox One/Series X|S) – Releases May 17th
Remember Furi? That’s okay, neither did I, but it’s back with a brand new character to play as. The developer is so hyped on this new character that they claim it will feel like an entirely new game if you’ve already beaten it; wow! I believe this is also the game’s debut on PS5 and Series X|S.
Notable Releases from 10, 20 and 30 (and sometimes 40) years ago:
Dragon’s Dogma (PS3/Xbox 360) – Released May 22nd, 2012: Wiki Link
Capcom’s RPG Dragon’s Dogma was initially conceived in the year 2000 (…in the year two thousaaaaaand). The game’s creator, Hideaki Itsuno, jotted down ideas for a role playing game set in a high fantasy world. He came up with the title, as well as a gameplay idea that would eventually morph into Dragon’s Dogma’s Pawn system. However, Itsuno would be tapped to take over Devil May Cry 2, with that franchise taking up all his time for the next eight years. In 2008, after completing Devil May Cry 4, Capcom told Itsuno that they were looking for their next million seller title. With Dragon’s Dogma in his back pocket, Itsuno finally got the chance to pitch his dream project (plus six others) to the higher up’s at Capcom, and they liked what they saw.
The concept was fairly simple, a single player RPG set in a high fantasy world where players would have to defeat an evil dragon that was intent on destroying the world. Itsuno took a lot of inspiration from Western RPGs of the time, including The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion and Fable II, going for an open world style of gameplay that strongly mimicked Oblivion and featured well over 200 NPCs to interact with, as well as having a day & night cycle. Although Dragon’s Dogma would be considered a single player game, Itsuno wanted some kind of multiplayer feature, a way for players to interact with one another without actually being in the game. His solution was two parts, one was a kind of message system that allowed players to give hints and tips to other people also playing the game, while the second was the Pawn system.
The Pawn system in Dragon’s Dogma is what set it apart from other RPGs of the era. Through this system, players could have three additional party members in their group, with one character being picked by the game and the other two being characters created by other players (or if not connected online, two randomly generated characters). If you think this sounds similar to Dark Souls, well, you’re kind of right. However, when Dragon’s Dogma was pitched to Capcom executives in 2008, Dark Souls and its unique social interactions hadn’t been seen yet, they were still two years away, so there was some initial skepticism towards the idea. In hindsight, however, it appeared that Capcom was on the cutting edge of the next big thing in gaming. Perhaps inspired by another Western RPG, Mass Effect, players could give commands to their party members, telling them how to fight and where to go. Dragon’s Dogma had a lot of ideas going for it, but would they all work?
Dragon’s Dogma received a worldwide release in May of 2012 and was adored by Japanese critics, earning 34/40 points in Famitsu, but was met with more subdued praise in the West. In Europe, critics thought the game was a fine enough single player experience, but they lamented the lack of true multiplayer, which was obviously the future of gaming since single player titles were dead. In the U.S., critics were a bit between Japan and Europe; they enjoyed the single player aspect a lot and liked the kinda-sorta multiplayer features it had, however U.S. critics were let down by the game’s story, calling it flat and uninspired. One bit of praise they did have for the story, though, was that it felt very similar to an earlier Capcom RPG series , Breath of Fire, which wasn’t an accident, as Breath of Fire’s scenario writer was also responsible for Dragon’s Dogma’s scenario.
The game sold well in all regions, and within a month of release it surpassed the 1 million unit mark, making Capcom happy. An updated version of the game subtitled Dark Arisen was released a year later, adding in new content and fleshing out the story a bit more, leading critics to positively re-evaluate the game, calling it a finally finished product. Dark Arisen would arrive on PC in 2016, followed by PS4 and XBone in 2017, with its most recent release being on the Switch in 2019. A sequel was rumored to be in development, but it was reported that Capcom decided to make Devil May Cry 5 instead. Dragon’s Dogma isn’t the most memorable RPG of its console generation, but it’s worth a look if you’ve never played it.
Lost Kingdoms (GameCube) – Released May 17th, 2002: Wiki Link
In discussing out previous game, Dragon’s Dogma, I brought up From Software’s masterpiece Dark Souls. That 2010 release catapulted From Software into the stratosphere, cementing their place in video game history. However, Dark Souls was not their first RPG, they had others. No, I’m not just talking about Demon’s Souls, they have ben making RPGs for some time, including two PS2 launch titles, Eternal Ring and Ever Grace. For the GameCube’s launch window, From Software created a console exclusive RPG called Rune in Japan, before being renamed to Lost Kingdoms in the West. In typical From Software fashion, however, Lost Kingdoms was not your typical turn based RPG like Final Fantasy, nor was it a typical third person RPG like Ys. Lost Kingdoms uses a unique card system when doing battle against enemies, with players attacking their foes with monsters that they summon from cards in their deck.
While the game play was unique, the story was not. Set in your standard medieval European fantasy world, a entity called “the black fog” is enveloping surrounding parcels of land, killing everything it touches. The King of Argwyll took a group of soldiers to see what they could do to try and stop the fog, but after several weeks/months/years (it’s not very clear), hope is seemingly lost as the King still hasn’t returned. This is where the player comes in, taking on the role of princess Katia, as they venture out on a quest to save the King and defeat the black fog. I couldn’t find a whole lot about Lost Kingdom’s development, but according to the game’s Wiki, producer Atsushi Taniguchi gave an interview to RPGGamer where he indicated that once they figured out how to program on the GameCube it was a relatively easy production, with the team focusing on making a fun game that would be remembered by many.
Was it remembered by many? I mean, I guess it did well enough to gain a sequel, but I don’t know if I’d call Lost Kingdoms a memorable title from the 2000’s. Critics weren’t terribly impressed and the game, no surprise, fared a lot better in Japan than it did in the West. The various gaming outlets thought the card system was a unique and welcome feature, adding that it made the game far more enjoyable than it probably deserved. They were particularly unimpressed with the game’s graphics and music, and the localization was not very well received either, with many critics calling it simplistic. As mentioned, Lost Kingdoms would receive a sequel in 2003, to even worse reviews. From Software would abandon the series after this, releasing a slate of one off titles here and there while paying the bills with Armored Core releases. Of course, things would all change for them in in 2010, so we can consider Lost Kingdoms yet another title to throw onto the pyre, a sacrifice to the Dark Souls gods.
Wacky Races (NES) – Released May 1st, 1992: Wiki Link
The 1968 Hannah-Barbera cartoon Wacky Races only produced 17 episodes and lasted one year on the air. However, the show gained renewed interest in syndicated reruns that started in 1976 and aired through 1982. In 1991, a sequel series called Fender Bender 500 would begin airing on weekday mornings in the U.S., so I guess that was a good time to make a video game based on the property. I mean, like we discussed with Star Trek’s 25th anniversary earlier this year, nostalgia for the 1960’s and 70’s was just starting to crest in popular culture, so the desire to have a video game based on this old property was likely a nostalgia play for 20 and something’s who watched the cartoon as a kid.
Now, with the title Wacky Races, you might expect this to be a racing game, but you’d be wrong! Wacky Races is a side scrolling platformer, with players controlling the character Muttley as they try and sabotage the other racers, at the behest and, of course, grief, of his master Dick Dastardly. Does this make it a bad game, though? I mean, not really, it’s a competently made game and has shades of another Atlus developed NES game, Rockin’ Kats. It’s an easier game than Rockin’ Kats, but that doesn’t mean it’s easy. The controls are pretty tight, though the platforming leaves something to be desired at points, particularly with long jumps that require pinpoint precision to make. To attack, Muttley initially has the ability to bite enemies, though he must be in very close range, making boss fights nearly impossible.
To help, players collect bones and, similar to Gradius, can cash them in to change their attack style. One bone can grant you bombs, while a second bone can change it to a long range “bark” attack. Collecting a third bone can give you a short gliding boost (helpful for those terrible jumps), and if you collect five bones you can trade them in to gain a health point and, when fully upgraded, will instantly refill your health. The only review of its day that I could find was from EGM, which called Wacky Races a basic platformer with nice graphics and is really fun to play. As I noted earlier, the game was developed by Atlus who would, of course, become much more notable in the future with their Shin Megami Tensei series, also released on the NES in 1992 (in Japan). One bit of interesting trivia, the music in Wacky Races was composed by Hidehito Aoki, who would go on to help with music and sound on several SMT games, and was the main composer for the first Persona. Tragically, he would pass away in 2002 at the age of 32 after losing control of his car on an icy mountain road. Wacky Races would have another title release in 2000 for PC, this time developed by Appaloosa Interactive, before being ported to consoles by Infogrames and, yes, it did feature racing this time.
Yars’ Revenge (Atari 2600) – Released May 1982: Wiki Link
1982’s Yars’ Revenge is the best selling Atari 2600 game of all time. Yes, it beats title like Pac-Man, Donkey Kong, River Raid, and even the very popular Pitfall, a really high achievement. Originally conceived as a port of the arcade game Star Castle, Yars’ Revenge would come to be due to hardware limitations in the Atari 2600. In Star Castle, players would shoot out three rotating rings around a cannon. Once the layers are breached, players can shoot the cannon, but that also means the cannon can shoot back at the player. Taking this concept, the game’s lead programmer, Howard Scott Warshaw, built out what we know today as Yar’s Revenge, however, he initially wanted to call the game Time Freeze.
This title had nothing to do with the actual story of the game, instead it was a reference to how the game screen would freeze and then show you the first full-screen explosion ever in a video game. Eventually realizing this was a stupid name, Warshaw instead decided have a little fun with the title, naming it after Atari’s then CEO, Ray Kassar. According to Wikipedia, Warshaw saw Yars’ Revenge as Ray, and Atari’s, revenge against all of the employees who had defected to Activision. A nice little easter egg for observant fans. Okay, so what exactly do you do in Yars’ Revenge, you might be thinking. Well, the game is an “outer space shooter”, with players controlling a sentient alien bug named Yar who is trying to destroy an enemy named Qotile. Players must shoot a large shield protecting Qotile while dodging enemy fire. Once the shield is breached, players can fire either a cannon projectile, or move in and touch Qotile, to defeat it. There is also a neutral zone on the screen where players can not shoot, but can also not be destroyed by enemy fire. However, Qotile has a special spinning blade attack that can hit Yar while he’s in the neutral zone.
While the game is widely considered an all-time classic and was, as I mentioned, the best selling Atari 2600 game of all time, critics of the era kind of hated it. An October 1982 review in Electronic Games said that players in 1982 were moving past the “single screen/single objective” type of game. They want more challenges, more objectives, Yars’ Revenge just wasn’t sophisticated enough. A year later, Electronic Games’ provocative writer Bill Kunkel called Yars’ Revenge a “video sleeping pill”, yikes. Sophisticated or not, Yars’ Revenge is fucking FUN. I didn’t have an Atari 2600 when I was younger, but when the game released on Microsoft’s Game Room service about a decade ago I spent literal hours on my couch playing Yars’ Revenge. Yeah, I had Mass Effect 3 and Skyrim, but instead I found myself drawn to this fucking little game where you break apart a shield and devour an abstract shape. Yars’ Revenge has been ported to numerous consoles over the years and can be easily found in any modern Atari collection. Do yourself a favor and give this game a try.