It’s that last month of Summer, so you know what that means, it’s almost Fall! Yes, folks, Summer is just about done and with the upcoming Fall season we might finally be out of this drought of worthwhile games. It also means that some companies are pre-gaming, if you will, getting ready for the big show by putting out stuff that might be considered too niche for the Fall but maybe too good for the dregs of April-July. I don’t think THIS week, in particular, fits that description but, then again, Two Point Campus is a Sega game, so it’s probably better than average. Sega always delivers, they just want you to believe, believe in me; believe…BELIEVE!
Two Point Campus (PC/PS4/PS5/Switch/Xbox One/Series X|S) – Releases Aug. 9th
Developed by: Two Point Studios
Published by: Sega
Following up their very well received strategy building game Two Point Hospital, the team at Two Point Studios is back with their new strategy building game, Two Point Campus. In this game, players will build and manage their very own college campus, creating classes, hiring professors, building libraries, hiring janitors, building dorms, and generally making sure that the students who attend their school come out more knowledgeable then when they entered, and hopefully went to a party or two. Like Two Point Hospital, Campus is heavy on lightheartedness, allowing players to have things like Knight School, where students learn to become chivalrous knights. I loved Two Point Hospital and I think Two Point Campus looks like a hell of a good time.
Arcade Paradise (PC/PS4/Switch/Xbox One) – Releases Aug. 11th
Developed by: Nosebleed Interactive
Published by: Wired Productions
We don’t just have ONE strategy building game this week, we have TWO! In Arcade Paradise, players take over the family laundromat in the hopes that they can revitalize the sagging business. While you will, at first, spend your time running a laundromat, eventually you get the bright idea to add a couple of arcade machines in the back room. Over time, you decide to shed the laundry business and gradually replace your washers and dryers with all kinds of stuff, from classic 80’s fare, to the cutting edge 90’s games (the decade the game takes place in). In case you’re wondering, yes, the arcade games are playable, 35 in total from a variety of genres, but they are all original titles (though I’m sure the modding community will fix that soon enough). The nostalgia is strong here, the game even has a jukebox full of 90’s inspired tunes, looking forward to modding that as well and putting in some Smashing Pumpkins.
Cult of the Lamb (PC/PS4/PS5/Switch/Xbox One/Series X|S) – Releases Aug. 11th
Developed by: Massive Monster
Published by: Devlover Digital
After being saved from death by a dubious stranger, a young lamb is tasked with starting a cult that devotes all of its time and energy to praising this stranger (who is likely an Eldritch God). Explore the forest, recruit new members, convert other religions to yours, and smite the unbelievers. Being in a cult has never been this cute.
Rumbleverse (PC – Epic Games Store/PS4/PS5/Xbox One/Series X|S) – Releases Aug. 11th
Developed by: Iron Galaxy
Published by: Epic Games
I swear I talked about this game in a previous New Game Releases column, or maybe I just wrote up a blurb on it and then took it out because I realized the release date got bumped. If any of you hardcore NGR heads out there remember if I already talked about Rumbleverse, let me know. Anyway, Rumbleverse is yet ANOTHER battle royale game, one that I’m sure will have a long life with millions of concurrent players on a daily basis (LOL). However, what sets this apart from the others is that Rumbleverse is strictly hand-to-hand, melee combat. With 40 players on the battlefield, you must slaughter all of your opponents up close and personal, watching the light drain from their eyes as their body goes cold in your arms. Should be fun!
Ports and Re-releases:
Spider-Man Remastered (PC) – Releases Aug. 12th
Remember in 2017 when Sony promised that Spider-Man would be a PlayStation exclusive forever and would not be released on Xbox or PC? Spider-Man is now on PC.
Here’s three more games coming out. You’re welcome.
- Lost in Play (PC/Switch) – Releases Aug. 10th
- Super Bullet Break (PC/PS4/Switch) – Releases Aug. 12th
- Fashion Police Squad (PC) – Releases Aug. 15th
Notable Releases from 10, 20, and 30 years ago:
The Last Story (Wii) – Released Aug. 14th, 2012: Wiki Link
For some video game RPG fans, mostly older, two names likely inspire a lot of confidence, Hironobu Sakaguchi and Nobuo Uematsu. It was exciting, then to find out that that these two men were once again teaming up to make a video game. Their first RPG collaboration, Final Fantasy, went on to be a massive success and spawned a decades long franchise that still goes strong today. With Sakaguchi as writer/director, and Uematsu as composer, Final Fantasy ushered in the Japanese RPG, a genre that would grow bigger and bigger as each year passed. Later in their careers, after Sakaguchi had left Final Fantasy developer/publisher Square, they would team up again on a few more RPGs, notably Blue Dragon and Lost Odyssey. These games, however, didn’t quite hit the heights they were expected, perhaps due to their exclusivity to the Xbox 360. Sakaguchi wanted another crack at it, this time teaming up with Nintendo for a brand new title, The Last Story
Sakaguchi had been dismayed by the lukewarm reception to Blue Dragon and Lost Odyssey, prompting him to rethink his design of The Last Story. While the game would still be a JRPG at heart, it would have a stronger focus on action and side quests, with battles taking place in real time instead of being turn-based with multiple menus to navigate. Combat was similar to the early Ys games, with players automatically attacking when they run into their enemies. However, players could still cast spells/use abilities by entering a menu, choosing the various actions for each party member, and then watching it all unfold in real time. To fine tune this combat, Sakaguchi stated that the team had spent nearly a full year on getting it right through trial and error. Sakaguchi also took a bigger role on the game, marking his return to the role of director since the 1992 game Final Fantasy V, and would attend every E3 during the game’s production, learning what was being done in the RPG sphere and gaining assurances from his peers that the game was going in the right direction.
On working with Nintendo, Sakaguchi seemed to have a love/hate relationship with the company. Sakaguchi was initially excited about working with them because he felt that Nintendo’s executives had the same passion and drive to make experimental RPGs that he did. However, he would find himself frustrated with the Wii’s lack of power compared to the Xbox 360, prompting the team to scale back on the visuals and cut content. Sakaguchi also felt that Nintendo had too heavy a hand in the direction of the game, but admitted that many of their suggestions improved The Last Story greatly. One major point of contention, early on, was Nintendo’s insistence that the game be changed from its initial science fiction setting to a more traditional fantasy setting (perhaps not to compete with their Xenoblade franchise…).
For the music of The Last Story, Nobuo Uematsu would, at first, score it like he would for other games. Building out “jogging” themes, short battle music pieces, and personalized character themes. His first three pieces of music were rejected by Sakaguchi, causing Uematsu to kind of retreat and cut off communication with the team. While Sakaguchi and the team though Uematsu was going to leave the project, it turned out that his lack of communication was just him rethinking everything about how to compose video game music. Uematsu would need to push himself out of his comfort zone and find a way to make a score that felt more like something you’d hear in a film. Gone were zippy jingles and bright fanfares, replaced by moody, atmospheric music that relied more on ambient sound to emphasize characters emotions. The battle music was particularly tricky as it would be one long track, broken into multiple short pieces, with various parts coming in and out depending on the type of battle and how well, or not so well, it was going for players. For The Last Story’s main theme, Toberu Mono, Sakaguchi penned the lyrics himself, incorporating themes of being lost, living in a place that is not where you’re meant to be, wanting to go home. Sakaguchi said that these lyrics were highly personal to him, reflecting his current situation, while also conveying the “foreignness” of The Last Story, a game that centers on the fear and eradication of foreigners/outsiders.
The Last Story is full of intrigue, adventure, love, friendship, and rebellion, themes that are often typical of a Sakaguchi RPG story. The game takes place on Lazulis Island, with most of its residents living in a seaside fortress, unable to survive on the harsh land of the island, which is slowly dying. A group of mercenaries, led by the charming Dagran, head to Lazulis looking for work. Players are introduced to the entire gang, with a major focus on a young sword fighter named Zael. Dreaming of one day becoming a knight, Zael finds himself oddly drawn to Lazulis and, while exploring, encounters a mysterious force that brands him with a strange symbol. After the branding, Zael bumps into a young woman named Lisa, who is being chased by guards. Zael helps Lisa escape and moves on with his day. Later, Zael and his group are hired to act as security for an upcoming wedding between the high ranking official Lord Jirall and the Lady Calista, who happens to be Lisa! The wedding is interrupted when a group of evil outsiders called the Gurak attacks the seaside fortress. Helping Lady Calista to escape, Zael and his companions board a Gurak ship and their adventure begins.
Pre-release hype for the game was high due to the pedigree of Sakaguchi and Uematsu, and even more so because the Wii was sorely lacking in RPGs. However, Nintendo had doubts about releasing The Last Story in North America. They claimed that their work on localizing first party titles like Kirby’s Epic Yarn, as well as a multitude of 3DS games, was the main reason for not localizing The Last Story for North America. However, bizarrely, Nintendo did localize the game in English of the UK, citing a growing interest in RPGs in the country. To help get The Last Story, as well as Xenoblade Chronicles and Pandora’s Tower, a collective of fans got together to form Operation Rainfall. The campaign consisted of targeted letter writing to both Nintendo and NOA President Reggie Fils-Aimé, as well as bombarding Nintendo’s official social media accounts with requests for them to release the games. Nintendo agreed to finally release Xenoblade in North America, saying that Operation Rainfall didn’t factor into the final decision, but it was taken into consideration. However, it appeared that The Last Story was stubbornly being rejected by NOA for publishing.
What the public didn’t know behind the scenes, though, was that Nintendo had been in talks with publisher Xseed Games, well known for releasing niche Japanese in North America. There had been discussions about localizing the game for North America, it was decided to use the UK localization to save on time and money (remember, the Wii U is not far off). When The Last Story finally released in North America, it received generally favorable reviews. However, critics noted that the game’s story was cliched and unoriginal. Some critics found the characters endearing and well served by the story, while others found the characters to be one note and unexplored emotionally. The combat system was praised, as was the game’s use of multiplayer (because, you know single players games were dead), and the musical score was praised as well.
Sales wise, The Last Story was a huge success in Japan, while in North America it did well enough, with Xseed saying it was their highest selling title to date. At the end of the year, The Last Story would be called one of the top games of the year by GamesRadar, 1UP, and Forbes, was nominated for “Wii/Wii U Game of the Year” at the Spike VGA’s and for “RPG of the Year” at GameSpot, winning “Best Sound: Wii/Wii U” at IGN. Despite the critical praise and decent sales, The Last Story never ended up on any other systems aside from the Wii, even being snubbed for eShop release, with only Xenoblade and Pandora’s Tower making it. I’m not sure why Nintendo seems to delight in keeping various games and franchises away from North America, but The Last Story is likely going to remain a Wii exclusive, with only very, very expensive used copies being your best chance to play it.
Mafia (PC) – Released Aug. 29th, 2002: Wiki Link
Mafia is an open world, action game about one of the quintessential American crime organizations, stereotypically made up of Italians, made by a group of Czech developers. Development began at Illusion Softworks in late 1998 and was initially codenamed Gangster. The game was intended to be a Driver clone, with players taking on missions as a driver for a local crime family in a fictional Illinois city, with a projected release in 2000. In the middle of production the team decided to design a new game engine as the one they were using, based on the engine from their game Hidden and Dangerous, wasn’t adequate for the team’s needs. This caused the game to be delayed by two years, but that extra time also led to a change in gameplay.
With the increase in processing power and 3D graphics, as well as a new engine, the team at Illusion decided to allow players to exit their vehicles and explore the city, called Lost Heaven, on foot. It was a great move, as another open world, crime game would emerge on the market and change things forever, Grand Theft Auto III. The demand for these types of games was at a fever pitch and Mafia was one of the first to really capitalize on this trend. Like GTA III, Mafia puts players in the role of a small time crook who works his way to the top. The player character, Tommy Angelo, drives to various locations in the city, performing tasks such as delivering stolen goods to taking out rival mobsters.
Unlike GTA III and other driving based games with vehicle damage, the cars in Mafia are damaged dynamically, with dents and scratches appearing in accurate points on the car. Typically, car damage would be preset and, ostensibly, the same for all models of that vehicle. In Mafia, every car model had separately created mirrors, windows, tires, bumpers, etc., allowing for even greater levels of detail in the damage. While GTA III would allow players to follow the story or just mess around in a sandbox, Mafia was more focused on the story and less so on open world freedom, however, there was a “free mode” that players could take part in and, after completing the game, unlocked an “extreme free mode” which added things like stunt jumps and high intensity driving missions.
In other GTA III similarities, players would also have to deal with the police. Their response to the player would be based on the type of crime committed. Minor offenses, like speeding or running a red light, causes police to pull players over and fine them. Major offenses, such as running somebody over or brandishing a weapon, would incur the full wrath of the police, leading to arrest or death if you couldn’t get away. While doing research for Mafia, Illusion Softworks became aware that the world they were inhabiting was incredibly serious and the tone of the game reflected this. While GTA III was squarely a comedic parody and satire of crime films and American greed, Mafia wanted to make the game and story as serious as possible, with nary a hint of humor to be found.
Mafia was very well received by critics when it was released, being favorably compared to Grand Theft Auto III and was praised for its realism and more serious tone, setting itself apart from Rockstar’s franchise. Mafia did incredibly well in the Czech Republic, receiving universal acclaim from players and critics, with Mafia being voted the best video game developed in the Czech Republic/Slovakia by the public. Mafia received several nominations at the end of the year from GameSpot including, “Best Single-Player PC Game”, “Biggest Surprise”, “Best Sound”, “Best Graphics”, “Best Story”, and “Game of the Year”, winning the award for “Best Music”. A port to PS2 and Xbox would arrive in 2004 to mixed reviews, followed by two sequels, Mafia II in 2010 and Mafia III in 2016. A remake of Mafia would also come out, releasing in 2020. For anyone curious about the original game, it is still available for PC, easily obtainable on Steam or GOG. While I wouldn’t really call it a triumph in open world gaming, it’s fun enough if you find it for a good sale price.
Quest For Glory III: Wages of War (PC) – Released Aug. 1992: Wiki Link
Notable Film Release: Unforgiven – Starring Clint Eastwood, Gene Hackman, Morgan Freeman, and Richard Harris
Notable Album Release: The Flaming Lips – Hit to Death in the Future Head
A few weeks ago we talked about how PC gaming was typically dominated by a few names, and highlighted LucasArts and their NES game, Defenders of Dynatron City (a terrible game, BTW). This week we’ve got the release of a point & click adventure from one of the most premier PC software developers of its time, Sierra On-Line. Founded in 1979 by Ken and Roberta Williams, Sierra On-Line built a reputation through the 1980’s as one of the most ambitious and high quality game developers/publishers on PC. Their franchises like King’s Quest, Police Quest, Leisure Suit Larry, Space Quest, and many others, were hallmarks of the adventure game genre, paving the way for people in the industry with similar ideas.
Near the end of the 1980’s, Sierra was pitched a new game series from a husband a wife team who had just joined the company, Corey and Lori Ann Cole. They came to the higher ups with the idea to make Sierra’s first RPG, an intriguing idea. The game would undergo some changes and would be closer to an RPG/adventure game hybrid, being released when keyboard commands were still the preferred method of input. The game would be called Hero Quest but, after failing to trademark the name, lost it to Hasbro and their board game of the same name, with the series now being called Quest For Glory.
One of the highlights of the series was that players were able to import their characters from game to game, keeping various items, wealth, and skills picked up in subsequent entries. The first two games in the series did very well for Sierra and Quest For Glory became yet another hit franchise for the company. For the third entry, Quest For Glory III: The Wages of War, two big changes were made. The first was that the game was entering the VGA era and had no EGA counterpart, the second change came from the gameplay, with Sierra removing the keyboard commands in favor of using the mouse to point & click. This change was not well received by the core fans of the game, as they seemed to prefer the old style (when have PC gamers EVER acted like that?!).
It was a changing game market, though. While straight, white males still made up the dominate PC (and gaming) audience, more and more women were joining in on the hobby. Home computers were just starting to get their footing in American households, meaning more stay at home parents (typically moms) were using the computer in their free time, and the creation of new ways to play, like the Nintendo Game Boy, were making games more mainstream than ever. To reach this new market, the Coles decided to forgo a darker story, as they had originally intended, and went with something a bit more lighthearted for The Wages of War. This, also, upset the core fanbase of the series.
While the “fans” were upset, critics ate the game up like it was candy. They were blown away by the beautiful landscapes and grand backgrounds that made up the game’s world, a land populated by Liontaurs (half human/half lion) and Leopardmen (you know, leopards who are also men, I think), as well as humans that range from incredibly racist African stereotypes to just kind of mildly racist African stereotypes (it was the 90’s…). The story was praised, with players once again taking control of “the hero” (a blonde haired, blue-eyed white guy, thank god), as he tries to help the Liontaurs and humans in their conflict with the Leopardmen. If you’d like to play Quest For Glory III today (you should, it’s good), you can easily find it on GOG and Steam in a package that contains all five games in the series.
Oh, I almost forgot, the characters from Sanford & Son are in the game as junk sellers and, as far as I can tell, they weren’t credited for it. It’s a very odd game series.