If you’re a fan of indie/small games then this week is tailor made for you. There’s no big, AAA blockbuster coming this week, but the wide variety of diverse offerings should have something that appeals to just about everyone. I know a lot of us probably wait for these kind of games to go on sale for $1.99 during a Steam event, but sometimes it’s good to support these smaller devs/publishers by paying full price. Come on, give them your money; fool enough to almost spend it, and cool enough to not quite keep it.
GigaBash (PC/PS4/PS5) – Releases Aug. 5th
Developed by: Passion Republic Games
Published by: Passion Republic Games
“Claim your place as king among Titans! GigaBash is a multiplayer arena brawler with gigantic film-inspired kaiju, larger than life heroes, earth-shattering special attacks and fully destructible environments“.
Frogun (PC/PS4/PS5/Switch/Xbox One/Series X|S) – Releases Aug. 2nd
Developed by: Molegato
Published by: Top Hat Studios
For their third game, developer Molegato once again takes inspiration from the 3D games of the 90’s. Their second game, Supersonic Tank Cats was inspired by Mario Kart 64, and now their latest game, Frogun, takes its inspiration from Super Mario 64 and other platforming collect-a-thons from that era. Limited Run has a fancy physical version that you can pre-order, though not having a version that comes in a mock N64 came box is just a missed opportunity.
The Mortuary Assistant (PC) – Releases Aug. 2nd
Developed by: DarkStone Digital
Published by: DreadXP
After completing mortuary school, or whatever, you take a job at a local morgue, despite the troubling rumors you’ve heard about it. Things seem normal at first, then one night you are called in for an emergency embalming and, of course, that’s when everything goes to hell, possibly literally.
South of the Circle (PC/PS4/PS5/Switch/Xbox One/Series X|S) – Releases Aug. 3rd
Developed by: State of Play
Published by: 11 bit studios
For anyone in the mood for a highly emotional narrative game, South of the Circle looks to scratch that itch. Set during the height of the Cold War, players will follow the lives of two people, Peter and Clara, witnessing how their relationship changes over time. With heavy choices to make throughout the game regarding your career, who you love, and whether or not to keep the promises you’ve made. Will this be one of those indies that we all talk about at the end of the year, or just another forgotten story? You decide.
Hard West II (PC) – Releases Aug. 4th
Developed by: Ice Code Games
Published by: Good Shepard Entertainment
Gather up your posse of supernatural comrades and cause havoc and mayhem out in the Wild West. Played similarly to the XCOM series, Hard West II should offer a good amount of fun and content if this is your sort of thing.
PlateUp! (PC) – Releases Aug. 4th
Developed by: It’s happening
Published by: Yogcast Games
Design your own restaurant, make upgrades as your business grows, all while trying to maintain a fast kitchen for your ever increasing hungry, and impatient, customers.
Ports and Re-releases:
Papers, Please (Android/iOS) – Releases Aug. 5th
Believe it or not, the indie sensation Papers, Please has not been available on mobile devices. Well that all changes on Aug. 5th, as the document management/political intrigue game will finally be available on your cellular telephone or tablet.
Notable Releases from 10, 20, and 30 years ago:
Persona 4 Arena (PS3/Xbox 360) – Released Aug. 7th, 2012: Wiki Link
If you’ve enjoyed any of the recent Persona spin off games, like that dancing one or that musou one, you can thank Persona 4 Arena for that. The game was brought to life by Kazuhisa Wada, a designer and artist at Atlus, including as chief designer on both Persona 3 and Persona 4, through his desire to see the Persona series branch out into other game genres. His key reason for doing this was that he hoped it would boost the series’ reputation in the larger gaming world, he wanted Persona to go mainstream. Wada would float the idea to producer Katsura Hashino and character designer Shigenori Soejima, with both men loving the concept. It was decided that their first spin off should be a fighting game, as it was the one genre that all three men were huge fans of.
To develop this game, the Persona team would need to reach out to an already established fighting game developer. After discussing their aptitude at making striking fighting games, as well as a similar work ethic, the team reached out to Arc System Works to help with development. This game wouldn’t be solely worked on by Arc System Works, though, the Persona team at Atlus would be working hand in hand with them. This put Arc System Works in charge of developing the fighting game portion, while the Persona team focused on the story elements and visual design. Working on a new Persona game was a huge deal to the team at Arc System Works, as many of their staff were huge fans of the series.
Arc System Works thought, at first, that they would just be making a quick little game that made a few call backs to Persona 4 and then move on. This wouldn’t be the case, the Persona team thought of this new game, called Persona 4 Arena, as a full fledged sequel to not just the recent Persona 4, but also a sequel to Persona 3. Set two months after P4 and three years after P3, players start the game as P4 protagonist Yu Narukami who is returning to the small town of Inaba to celebrate Golden Week. After arriving, Yu and some of his friends are alerted to a fighting tournament in the TV World. With some of their friends missing, the remaining Investigation Team members enter TV to see if they can figure out what’s going on. Meanwhile, a group of characters from Persona 3 show up, former members of SEES, as they search for one of their anti-shadow weapons who has, of course, gone missing. This leads them to discover the TV World and then, everyone fights.
First released in Japanese arcades on Mar. 1st, 2012, Persona 4 Arena would come to consoles first in Japan on Jul. 26th, then in North America on Aug. 5th. Reception to the game was very positive, with critics finding both the fighting game aspect AND the visual novel aspects to be incredibly well made and engaging. There were some critics, though, who pointed out that the story told in Arena spoiled huge portions of Persona 4, making that game’s surprises less impactful. It was also noted that, because it was a sequel, you almost had to have played Persona 4 to fully understand what was going on. In its first three months on the market, Persona 4 Arenasold over 220,000 copies, far exceeding Atlus’ expectations. The game was a huge financial and critical success, paving the way for not just more spin offs of the Persona series, but helped put the franchise on the radar of the mainstream gaming audience. The experiment worked!
Medieval: Total War (PC) – Released Aug. 19th, 2002: Wiki Link
After a very successful debut, the Total War series would continue, moving from the Sengoku period of Japan to the middle ages of Europe, North Africa, and the Middle East, taking place between 1087 to 1453. Several improvements were made to the game over its predecessor, and was lauded by critics as one of the best games of the year, being a true milestone in PC gaming.
Initially titled Crusader: Total War, the title was changed to Medieval to better reflect the scope of the game. Still, religion plays a huge part in the game, with some victories coming from converting other nations to your particular religion. The first Total War game was well known for its massive battles, and Medieval wouldn’t just deliver on this, they’d do it better, with the amount of troops in battle increased to 10,000. Army size wasn’t the only thing increased, maps got larger as well, full of far more details than those in Shogun: Total War, including small villages and more robust vegetation. Another thing about the maps, their terrain and topography would be based on where you were fighting on the larger strategy map, making Medieval a lot more varied and immersive than Shogun.
In Medieval’s strategy gameplay, production was improved upon, allowing players to build and train units in any region they occupy. You can increase your revenue by taxing your subjects and from trade with other provinces. With new technology trees, players can upgrade their existing buildings which can, in turn, allow for the training of new unit types. While there is no specific technology research, the game does add in new types of technology, such as gun powder, once you reach the year that those were invented. Not only will technology appear in its historically accurate time period, certain factions, like the Golden Horde, only become available once you reach the year that they first appeared.
With its improvements and strict attention to historical accuracy, Medieval: Total War was overwhelmingly praised by critics. They were very happy with how robust the single player campaign felt and lauded its complexity, noting that your choices have consequences for the future of your empire, and if you don’t plan accordingly, you’ll find yourself broke or conquered. Still, strategy games were a dime a dozen on PC, and Civilization was still top dog, what really made critics go gaga were the battles. They were amazed by the amount of troops, as well as how much better the playing fields looked overall.
There were a few criticisms lobbed at the game, mostly stemming from low frame rates and slowdown when there were a large number of units on screen at the same time, as well as a few bugs. Another knocks against it was that the game was not at all suited for the casual PC gamer, this was made for the hardcore strategy game fan and was very unforgiving to new players. These criticisms didn’t do much to hinder its chances of being recognized at the end of the year, with multiple awards, including: Top Game of 2002 from PC Gamer UK, Technical Excellence from EMMA for Jeff van Dyck’s soundtrack, Best Strategy Game from GameSpy, PC Game Developer of the Year from the European Computer Trade Show, and Best Single-Player Strategy Game on PC from GameSpot. Medieval: Total War is still easily available on PC through Steam, though it’s gameplay is pretty archaic compared to the more modern Total War games. Still, it’s a fantastic title that I recommend if you are a big strategy game fan, particularly of ones from the early decades of PC gaming.
Kirby’s Dream Land (Game Boy) – Released Aug. 1st, 1992: Wiki Link
It’s always really neat when we reach the debut of a famous character/franchise in Notable Releases, so it brings me great pleasure to talk about Kirby’s Dream Land. Now one of Nintendo’s flagship series along with Mario, Zelda, and Pokémon, the little pink puffball has been the star of 28 different games and 1 collection that, of course, also features new content. In fact, Kirby is so prolific that there will be TWO games in the franchise released in 2022 alone. What is is about Kirby that makes him so endearing?
The character of Kirby was created by Masahiro Sakurai, a new hire at HAL Laboratory, in 1989 when he was only 19. Kirby was not the character’s first name, with Sakurai initially wanting to name the character Popopo, HAL intended to publish the game independently, calling it first Popopo of the Spring Breeze, before settling on Twinkle Popopo. However, early pre sales of the game were dismal, but feeling like they had a hit game on their hands, HAL reached out to Nintendo to see if they had any interest in publishing the game. Impressed with what Sakurai and the team had put together, Nintendo agreed to publish HAL’s game, but they were concerned with the name Popopo. Thinking that the character should have a more worldwide appeal, Nintendo asked the American division to suggest names for the character. Before long, a clear favorite was circulating the office; Kirby.
Shigeru Miyamoto loved the name Kirby for this new character, he though it was really funny to have such a gruff, harsh name for a character that was so soft and cute. Not only that, but the name Kirby was also an homage to the lawyer John Kirby who, in 1984, was able to save Nintendo from potential financial ruin by arguing that Donkey Kong did not infringe on the King Kong trademark that Universal claimed to hold. With the character’s name changed, the title of the game would also need to updated. In Japan, the game would be known as Kirby of the Stars, while in the West, it would be called Kirby’s Dream Land. Kirby’s color was also a point of debate as well. Sakurai had intended Kirby to be pink from the start, and even colored him this way in concept art. However, because of the Game Boy’s monochrome display, Nintendo of Japan (mostly because of Miyamoto) thought Kirby was yellow, while Nintendo of America though Kirby was white. This white colored Kirby would appear in promotional material and on the game’s cover, and wouldn’t be shown as pink until the 1993 NES game, Kirby’s Adventure.
The gameplay in Kirby is very easy, which is completely by design as Sakurai wanted to make a game that could appeal to players of all ages and skill level. This simple approach was also championed by Satoru Iwata who was then HAL’s coordinator of software production (soon after this he would be named HAL’s president, a coincidence…), who helped Sakurai with the game’s programming. In Kirby’s Dream Land, players control the character as they move through a side scrolling level. Kirby’s main mode of attack comes from his ability to suck up enemies (or objects) and either eat them or spit them back out, hitting other enemies (or objects). Kirby can also inhale air and then shoot it back out to defeat enemies. While the game does consist of jumping around on platforms, Kirby has the ability to fly, meaning that players could, potentially, fly across the entire level, never having to touch the ground or engage with enemies.
With a total of five levels, Kirby’s Dream Land is pretty short, but the mechanics of the gameplay are so fun that playing it over and over feels fun and fresh each time. Nintendo conducted a massive marketing campaign for Kirby’s Dream Land when it released which, if I had to guess, was because Nintendo didn’t have a major original character/mascot for the Game Boy, relying mostly on new entries for already established franchises. The ad blitz worked, because Kirby’s Dream Land was a major financial success for HAL and Nintendo. In Japan, the game topped the Famitsu sales charts for three straight months, and in the U.S. it was also high on the sales charts, even taking the top spot in October of 1992. By March of 1993, Kirby’s Dream Land had sold over 1 million copies worldwide, and by 2010 the game had sold over 5 million copies.
Critics were overwhelming positive towards Kirby’s Dream Land due to it’s excellent controls, high fun factor, and unique concept. Critics noted that the game might came across as too simple, but that beneath the candy coating, there was a solid challenge that only gets tougher once you unlock the harder difficulty settings. As I noted above, Kirby would go on to appear in 28 more games, plus one collection, over the next 30 years, with a 29th new game coming by the end of this Summer (Kirby’s Dream Buffet). Kirby is wildly popular with children and, while I don’t have any data to prove this, anecdotal evidence suggests this, as I have known children for 30 years and, just about all of them, are obsessed with Kirby. My six year old daughter is the latest evidence of this. It took me almost ten years to finally play a Kirby game, Kirby’s Adventure on an NES emulator, and nearly 20 more years to finally fall in love with the character, watching my daughter giggle and shout as she plays through Kirby and the Forgotten Land. Kirby is endearing because no matter how old you are, no matter how good or bad you are at playing video games, Kirby can be picked up, played, and enjoyed by just about anybody. I’m so glad we’ve had him around for 30 years, and I can’t wait to see where he is 30 years from now, maybe my daughter will be working the franchise. It’s her dream.