There’s a lot of games this week to talk about, it’s starting to feel like the Fall season onslaught is about to ramp up. Still, most of these titles are fairly small/indie affairs, though the AAA output is up compared to the last few weeks. Maybe you’ll see something interesting, or maybe none of it looks good, it can happen. Look, none of us live forever and we’ll certainly never get to play all the games that come out, and that’s okay. Soon I’ll find myself alone, to relax and fade away…I shall be free.
Saints Row (PC – Epic Games Store/PS4/PS5/Stadia/Xbox One/Series X|S) – Releases Aug. 23rd
Developed by: Volition
Published by: Deep Silver
After a nine year absence, the bonkers, over the top, open world series Saints Row is back. Revealed at Gamescom in 2021, this new entry is a reboot of the franchise, pulling away from all the wacky stuff found in the 3rd and 4th entries (super powers, giant dildos, etc.) and striking a tone similar to that of the second game which was seen as being grounded in reality but with a lot of humor. Players find themselves as the head of a gang of crooks in the Las Vegas inspired Santo Ileso, with each one being a former member of one of the four gangs that run the town. Initial reaction to the game was mixed, with a conteigent of fans not liking the turn away from the wacky-ness, while others chastised it for being “woke”, AKA, there are women and ethnic minorities in the main roles. While some thought it looked promising, early reviews have been scathing, with most critics calling it a bug riddled mess that has gameplay ideas that were considered out of fashion 10 years ago. I know we’re all jonesing for a big, AAA game to come and knock our socks off, but it sounds like Saints Row might not be it. At this point, my guess is that the game will be $19.99 by Black Friday; save your money.
Soul Hackers 2 (PC/PS4/PS5/Xbox One/Series X|S) – Releases Aug. 26th
Developed by: Atlus
Published by: Sega
Well, we’ve got another high profile, AAA, game with middling reviews, the Shin Megami Tensei spin-off, Soul Hackers 2. Set in the near future where two factions of Devil Summoners are at war with one another, players follow the adventures of two supernatural beings who have left the digital world and entered ours. Their goal, to stop a cataclysmic event that they predict will exterminate humanity. Early reviews haven’t been very kind, with most critics calling the game “bare bones”, with an INSULTING 30 hour play time, as opposed to the 100+ hours you’d get from a Persona game (I don’t agree with this assessment; the shorter, the better). Critics also think Soul Hackers 2 is bland & repetitive, but they cite its biggest sin as having day one DLC that includes more story content that, they claim, could have been easily integrated into the full game, because we all know how easy that is. In any case, my guess is that Soul Hackers 2 is a budget title with a short development time that is being touted as a full, AAA release. Again, this will most likely drop in price in the near future, save your money.
Midnight Fight Express (PC/PS4/Switch/Xbox One) – Releases Aug. 23rd
Developed by: Jacob Dzwinel
Published by: Humble Games
You might be wondering, “is anything good coming out?“, well, do the words “Co-Writer of Destiny 2: The Witch Queen” and “The stuntman from God of War (2018)” do anything for you, because they don’t do anything for me.
Deadly Night (PC) – Releases Aug. 25th
This trailer might be a bit intense for some people, definite trigger warnings regarding blood/gore and sexual assault (albeit in 1990’s, N64 style graphics).
Developed by: Cubyte Games
Published by: Torture Star Video
With shades of Clock Tower, Deadly Night is a stealth, survival horror game in which players must hide from a vicious killer as they try and escape this small town that they are trapped in. The graphics evoke the N64 and PlayStation, but the aesthetic and key art evoke 1980’s direct-to-video slasher movies, while also calling itself a “grind house” game, which is a term from the 1970’s. Whatever the era this is supposed to most closely resemble, Deadly Night looks horrifying; take that any way you want.
I Was a Teenage Exocolonist (PC/PS4/PS5) – Releases Aug. 25th
Developed by: Northway Games
Published by: Finji
With a title like I Was a Teenage Exocolonist you’d think it would be a throwback to 1950’s sci-fi films, but instead this game looks like every other indie RPG/visual novel on the market. Played over ten years of the protagonist’s life, you will need to make several life altering choices, fall in love, help expand the colony, and ultimately, determine your path in life. The game features a card based battle system, so your mileage may vary depending on your feelings towards that style of gameplay.
Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid: Burst Forth!! Choro-gon Breath (PS4/Switch) – Releases Aug. 25th
Developed by: Kaminari Games
Published by: Aksys Games
This game has such a stupid title, but I love bullet hell shooters, so here we are.
SD Gundam Battle Alliance (PC/PS4/PS5/Switch/Xbox One/Series X|S) – Releases Aug. 25th
Developed by: Artdink/Alvion
Published by: Namco Bandai
The Gundam universe is in peril, with characters, locations and events from the long running series all converging into one. In this action RPG, players will engage in thrilling battles alone or with friends, as they try to put history back together.
Pac-Man World: Re-PAC (PC/PS4/PS5/Switch/Xbox One/Series X|S) – Releases Aug. 26th
Developed by: Now Production
Published by: Namco Bandai
If you were clamoring for a remastered version of the 1999 game Pac-Man World, then congratulations, you got it.
Ports and Re-releases:
Nexomon + Nexomon: Extinction: Complete Collection (PS4/Switch) – Releases Aug. 26th
Do you like Pokémon but, like, you find Nintendo so, like, fuckin’ corporate, man? Like, we need to burn down this late stage capitalism trap we’ve all gotten ourselves caught in *takes a huge bong hit*. Then you can play the indie version, Nexomon + Nexomon Extinction. It still costs money though, sorry.
Like last week, there are a TON of smaller games coming out. Most of them don’t look super exciting, but you do get to play one of these as an Alligator who is also a brawling private detective. What? No, it’s not Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader?, what would possibly make you think it would be that game? Oh, well okay, it makes sense when you put it that way.
Hey look, handy links to each game’s Steam page! Glad I finally did this after four years.
- Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader? (PC/PS4/PS5/Switch/Xbox One/Series X|S) – Releases Aug. 23rd
- Yars: Recharged (PC/PS4/PS5/Stadia/Switch/Xbox One/Series X|S) – Releases Aug. 23rd
- Islets (PC/Switch/Xbox One) – Releases Aug. 24th
- A.V.A Global (PC) – Releases Aug. 25th
- Like No Other: The Legend Of The Twin Books (PC/Switch/Xbox One/Series X|S) – Releases Aug. 25th
- BROK the InvestiGator (PC) – Releases Aug. 26th
- Overloop (PC) – Releases Aug. 26th
Notable Releases from 10, 20, and 30 (and sometimes 40) years ago:
Sleeping Dogs (PC/PS3/Xbox 360) – Released Aug. 14th, 2012: Wiki Link
Notable Film Release: Sleepwalk With Me – Starring Mike Birbiglia, Lauren Ambrose, James Rebhorn, Carol Kane, and Marc Maron
*Click here to watch the trailer*
Notable Album Release: Minus the Bear – Infinity Overhead
*Click here to listen to the album*
After the release of Grand Theft Auto there were a whole lot of open world, crime games coming to the market. We’ve talked about Mafia recently, other to come out included Scarface, 25 To Life, The Getaway,187 Ride or Die, and the True Crime franchise. True Crime was published by Activision and developed by Luxoflux, with two entries, Streets of LA and New York. However, sales were low and critics hated the series, so Activision quietly put it on ice in 2005. In 2007, a new game company would be founded, called United Front Games. The company was made up of employees who had worked at EA Black Box, Rockstar Vancouver, Radical Entertainment, and Volition, with most of them having worked on open world games. Activision, seeing potential in the company, hired them to create a new open world game for them. With players Taking on the role of an undercover police officer in Hong Kong, this new game would be called Black Lotus, for now.
As development progressed it dawned on Activision that they owned the IP rights to an open world franchise, so, they contacted United Front and told them that the game would now be called True Crime: Hong Kong, and would be used to reboot the franchise and bring it into the next generation of consoles. Despite making a great effort in developing the game, Activision found that the market for open world games was dwindling, with no one able to penetrate Rockstar’s iron grip on the genre. In 2011, despite being virtually finished, True Crime: Hong Kong was cancelled, causing United Front to lay off 120 people in the process. While United Front agreed that it was difficult to beat Rockstar, they felt that True Crime: Hong Kong was unique in its own right and could stand alongside GTA and Red Dead if given the proper time and budget. Activision didn’t think this possible, but Square Enix did.
With 120 out of their 180 employees laid off, the future of United Front was looking dire. True Crime: Hong Kong was supposed to be their big money maker, but Activision got cold feet and cancelled it. However, Activision’s loss was Square Enix’s gain, as they saw the potential that the game had. Square Enix decided to buy the publishing rights from Activision, but not the True Crime IP, meaning that another name change was in order, this time it would stick, Sleeping Dogs. With the new funding from Square Enix, United Front was able to hire on 60 people to help finish the game and polish it up a bit. The executives at Square Enix were impressed with the game, but they felt the combat was a bit lacking. Taking a cue from recent brawlers like Batman: Arkham Asylum, the combat in Sleeping Dogs was overhauled to make it more focused on crowd control, environmental interactions, and counter attacks. This also gave the game a more “Hong Kong Action Film” vibe, with these films already being an inspiration on Sleeping Dogs.
As far as gameplay, Sleeping Dogs follows the basic GTA formula. Players drive to a map marker, engages in a short cut scene that sets up the mission, and then performs various tasks as required, such as winning street races, beating up/killing rival gangs, delivering goods, etc. While GTA’s protagonists are hardened criminals, Sleeping Dogs protagonist, Wei Shen, is an undercover police officer tasked with infiltrating a gang called the Sun On Yee. This presents a unique take on missions, as players will gain experience points based on how they play. If you are able to keep the violence directed towards just criminals, and you are able to drive safely, you’ll be awarded more “police points”. If you decide to just murder everyone around you and drive recklessly, you’ll gain fewer “police points”. Similarly, being overly aggressive, pulling off intense combos, and actually murdering other gang members, awards you “triad points”. You don’t really lose “triad points”, but the amount you get depends on how much of a bad ass you are.
Critics were very impressed with Sleeping Dogs and compared it favorably to GTA IV and Batman: Arkham City. There was some disagreement on the missions, with some outlets calling them varied and unique, while others felt they were too repetitive and highly derivative of missions found in other open world games. Most critics agreed, though, that the combat was excellent and that the graphics were top notch. Some critics were also keen to point out that the leveling up system was very unique for an open world game, with players able to unlock new moves as they progressed (though this was already a staple in the Yakuza series). Critics praised the dueling personality of Chen, finding the performance engaging and real, but were lukewarm on the rest of the cast, calling them stereotypes and poor GTA stand-ins.
Sleeping Dogs would go on to sell roughly 1.75 million copies, but this was far below Square Enix’s expectations, thinking that they had the next GTA on their hands. Most were in agreement that Sleeping Dogs was a good game, it just didn’t capture enough people’s attention to warrant further development of the franchise. Despite a sequel and a spin-off in production, Square Enix pulled their funding and the games were cancelled. This was the final nail in the coffin for United Front Games and the company would fold in 2017. Sleeping Dogs is a great game that just didn’t catch on. Perhaps everyone was wary of another bad GTA clone, or maybe it wasn’t marketed well enough. Word of mouth would continue to keep Sleeping Dogs on people’s minds, prompting a next-gen remaster for the PS4 and Xbox One, with a graphical overhaul for the PC version. With this remastered version, Sleeping Dogs is easily available today and I highly, HIGHLY recommend you give it a try. At least play it before you buy the new
Super Mario Sunshine (GameCube) – Released Aug. 26th, 2002: Wiki Link
Notable Film Release: Simone – Starring Al Pacino, Catherine Keener, Rachel Roberts, Evan Rachel Wood, Pruitt Taylor Vince, and Jay Mohr
*Click here to watch the trailer*
Notable Album Release: Queens of the Stone Age – Songs for the Deaf
*Click here to listen to the album*
When the Nintendo GameCube launched in 2001, it was the first time in a long time that they put out a console with no Mario game. Yeah, Luigi’s Mansion was there, but a mainline Mario title had come out with the SNES and N64, people kind of expected it. It wasn’t as if Nintendo was sitting on their hands in regards to making a new Mario game, they had been hard at work. The groundbreaking success of Super Mario 64, essentially ushering in the 3D gaming revolution, meant that expectations were high for a sequel. Over the next few years, Miyamoto and his team at Nintendo would flirt with new games, including Super Mario 64 2 and Super Mario 128, but they would eventually be folded into other projects. With Mario not having a proper sequel on the N64, it was outgoing president Hiroshi Yamauchi’s last directive that a Mario game be made for the GameCube. It was time.
For this new Mario game, long time Miyamoto apprentice Yoshiaki Koizumi was tapped to direct. His ten year long apprenticeship had given him key insights to the inner workings of Nintendo and prepared him to try out bold new ideas. For this new title, the team stuck with the 3d style from Super Mario 64, but would turn it on its head a bit. In this new game, Koizumi came up with this idea that Mario would carry around a water cannon, using it in all sorts of manner to defeat enemies, reach platforms, and clean up gunk. The design of the nozzle, and the name of it, would go through several iterations until the team finally settled on F.L.U.D.D., with the device being the invention of Professor E. Gadd, who had recently appeared in Luigi’s Mansion.
With the core gameplay mechanic figured out, the team came up with the story and name, calling it Super Mario Sunshine. In this game, players find Mario, Peach, Toadsworth, and several other Toads taking a vacation to the beautiful Isle Delfino. The group board a flight but, as they arrive, they notice the runway is covered in a multicolored, paint-like goo. Upon landing, Mario is handed F.L.U.D.D. by the professor and he proceeds to clean up the mess and defeat the piranha plants that spawn from it. Despite having just saved several people from danger, the local police arrest Mario and charge him with vandalism. Despite their best efforts, Mario and his friends are unable to sway the people of Isle Delfino, so Mario is sentenced to community service, cleaning up the mess “he made” and collecting Shine Sprites, the life blood of the island. Soon afterwards, it is discovered that a Mario look-alike has been going around town, creating graffiti with a magical paint brush. Mario chases his doppelganger and is transported to various parts of the island through magical portals.
The town that Mario is stuck in acts the game’s hub world, allowing Mario to jump into special pieces of graffiti which lead to levels where Mario can collect Shine Sprites much in the same way you would collect stars in Super Mario 64. This kind of re-tread of the previous game didn’t sit well with some critics. In the six years since Super Mario 64, 3d platforming games had evolved and gotten better. Some critics were disappointed that Super mario Sunshine didn’t take enough risks or change the genre in a groundbreaking way. Reaction to F.L.U.D.D. was mixed, with some critics enjoying the new gameplay elements it brought, while others thought it was just a cheap gimmick. Still, despite some critics putting it down, Super Mario Sunshine received a perfect score in GamePro, was called the best Mario game ever made by Game Informer, and was called better than Super Mario 64 by Computer and Video Games magazine. On the flip side, GameSpot called it the most disappointing game of 2002.
Sales of the game were phenomenal, with over 750 million copies sold in Japan and the U.S. in the days after its release, beating out other popular titles like GTA III, Halo, and even Super Mario 64. By 2006, Super Mario Sunshine had sold over 5.5 million copies worldwide, but this was still considered a major disappointment by Nintendo, as it failed to bring enough new players into the GameCube ecosystem. Over the years, Super Mario Sunshine has kind of seen its star dwindle, often noted as being one of the lesser 3D Mario entries. Still, the legacy of the game lives on in modern Mario titles, with characters like Petey Piranha and Bowser Jr. making multiple appearances over the years, F.L.U.D.D. is used as one of Mario’s moves in Super Smash Bros., and the paint brush goo still pops up in Mario titles every now and then. In 2020, Super Mario Sunshine was released as part of the bundle Super Mario 3D All-Stars, only being available for a limited time both physically and digitally. This makes playing the game today a bit difficult if you missed the release window. While it’s not the best 3d Mario game, Super Mario Sunshine is still a good video game, and if you can get past the minor annoyances, you’ll have a great time with it.
Mario Paint (SNES) – Released Aug. 1st, 1992: Wiki Link
Notable Film Release: Rapid Fire – Starring Brandon Lee, Powers Boothe, and Nick Mancuso
*Click here to watch the trailer*
Notable Album Release: Bobby Brown – Bobby
*Click here to listen to album*
A little peak behind the curtain, it’s about 8:34pm PT and this is the last thing I’m writing about in this week’s column. If you watched the video above then you know that I just had a pretty terrible experience at a Taco Bell drive-thru and am not really in the mood to write, so this’ll be a bit light; maybe. Mario Paint is not really a game, it’s more of a design studio where players can create their own works of art. There is, of course, a free draw mode where you can use various types of utensils to make images. There’s a stamp maker section, which is basically a sprite creator, letting players make scenes featuring their favorite video games, assuming they have the talent to make the sprite, or have a pattern to follow. After drawing images, or using stamps/sprites to compose a scene, players have the ability to animate a short scene. If you want to add music to your animation then you can hop into the music creation suite and compose your own masterpiece.
While Mario Paint was mostly about making your own content, there was a game in there that you could play, a kind of “coffee break” from your “work”. In this mini-game, called Gnat Attack, players use the mouse to move a hand holding a fly swatter, attempting to swat flies and other bugs that appear on screen. After beating the boss in the third level you are sent back to the beginning, but the bugs move faster, making things more difficult the longer you play. It was a nice diversion, the perfect little game to keep you occupied while you dreamt up your next masterpiece.
Since the SNES didn’t have a hard drive, saving your work was difficult. The game could only save one project at a time, meaning if you wanted to keep a copy of it you would need to record it to a VHS tape, or take a photograph (because we all know how well CRT television’s photograph). I remember having Mario Paint as a kid and making my own short animations, I even used it to create a music video for the Stone Temple Pilots song “Interstate Love Song”. I wish I still had the VHS tape with it recorded on it, but it’s gone, probably taped over or thrown away. The only thing I really remember about it was for that line, “Feeling like a hand in rusted shame“, which makes no sense, but the image I drew was of a hand in, like rusty colored water and I wrote the word, “SHAME” in big letter throughout the liquid; deep stuff.
Mario Paint was a financial and critical success, selling over 1 million copies in the first year of release, with lifetime sales totaling over 2.3 million units sold (I guess expectations were lower back then, sorry Super Mario Sunshine). Critics of the day praised Mario Paint for its ingenuity, easy to pick up play style, and broad appeal among all ages ranges and genders. However, some critics of the day were put off by Mario Paint, calling it a bare bones affair with very little to do or enjoy. They lamented its lack of storage, the poor mouse controls, the inability to zoom in and fine tune your images, and just how low-fi it was on a system that was capable of 250 colors. One critic was so incensed that Nintendo had put in eight different animations for erasing an image, but couldn’t find space in the code to let players zoom in on their image.
In retrospect reviews, Mario Paint was seen as a groundbreaking title that allowed would-be artists to discover their passions. It was a wholly unique product, giving a glimpse at the “out of the box” ideas Nintendo would eventually embrace in the 2000’s. Mario Paint, despite being a huge success, never received a sequel, well, not in the U.S. A spiritual successor to the game, Mario Artist, was released on the 64DD in Japan and was comprised of three separate cartridges and one digital download. It was a critical smash, even in the U.S. (with critics playing an imported version), but was, sadly, not released in the West due to the failure of the 64DD. The closest comparable piece of software we have today from Nintendo is probably Super Mario Maker, which uses many of the same design aesthetics, and some music, as Mario Paint (like that fucking killer “save” song).
One final fun fact, fans of the web series Homestar Runner may, or may not, know that the character was initially conceived of as a children’s book. As a fun exercise, the two brothers, Matt and Mike Chapman, decided to make a short animation of their characters using Mario Paint. This was the first Homestar Runner cartoon ever produced and, enjoying the process so much, led to the brother Chapman to move over to flash animation and begin their long running web series. While Mario Paint isn’t available today on any modern Nintendo consoles, there are fan made versions of the game online, with the music creation being of particular interest to many people. It’s too bad you can’t play Mario Paint anymore (aside from an original copy), I guess if I want to make more animated music videos I’ll just need to use Photoshop or something.
Tron (Arcade) – Released Aug. 1982: Wiki Link
Notable Film Release: The Beastmaster – Starring Marc Singer, Tanya Roberts, Rip Torn, and John Amos
*Click here to watch the trailer*
Notable Album Release: The Go-Go’s – Vacation
*Click here to listen to album*
Released about a month after the release of the film, Tron takes ideas presented in the film and puts them in an arcade cabinet. Tron does not follow the events of the film in a linear fashion, instead it is made up of four mini-games with players, essentially, taking part in various scenes/games from the film. In I/O Tower, players move Tron towards a flashing input/output tower while avoiding Grid Bugs. In MCP Cone, players need to breakthrough a rotating shield that protects the MCP. In Battle Tanks, players guide Tron’s red tank as he fights off blue tanks (and is the only one not based on a scene from the film). Finally, in Light Cycles, players move their light cycle around the screen in a clone of the game Snake. A fifth mini-game, based on the the disc throwing scene, was conceived but not implemented, instead being released as a stand alone title in 1983, called Discs of Tron.
The idea for a Tron video game seemed like a no brainer, especially since it was a movie ABOUT video games. To bring the film to the arcade, developers at Bally Midway had two teams pitch ideas. One idea was a first person, vector graphics game with players exploring The Grid, while the second team proposed making a mini-game collection where the programmers could take existing Bally Midway games and put a Tron coat of paint on them. While there’s no indication on when Bally Midway got the rights to develop the game, my guess is that it probably wasn’t a lot of time, so taking existing games and turning them into a single Tron game was probably the more attractive idea.
While the Tron film bombed at the box office, the Tron video game was a smash success, taking in over $45 million by the end of 1983, far more than the film made while in theatres. Critics heaped very high praise upon Tron, calling it one of the best games ever made, receiving the “Game of the Year” award from Electronic Games magazine. Several more Tron video games would come out over the years, though Bally Midway only ever released two. To play Tron today you are going to need either the very expensive Arcade1Up replica, or an Xbox 360 and access to the Xbox Live Marketplace, as the game is download only and is not backwards compatible with the Xbone or Series X|S. Fondly remembered by many, Tron has left a lasting impact on video games over the last 40 years, it’s too bad it’s so hard to access.
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