Do you hear them? The sleigh bells are ringing and the champagne is popping, it’s almost the end of the year! You might think things would slow down but no, oh ho, no no. Since I’ve started writing this column we’ve seen titles like Super Smash Bros. Ultimate, Cyberpunk 2077, and Halo Infinite release in the first week of December, and this year is no different. We’ve got at least three major, AAA titles, with publishers hoping you’ll pick these up for that someone special in your life. I know there’s more than one title coming this week that I’m hoping Santa will put under the tree this year. Christmas always makes me feel like a kid again, seeing these beautiful, beautiful games, with my face pressed up to the glass, wanting them.
Marvel’s Midnight Suns (PC/PS5/Series X|S) – Releases Dec. 2nd
Developed by: Firaxis Games
Published by: 2K
It’s not like the world was a worse place for not having an XCOM style game with Marvel super heroes, but now it can be so, so much better because of Midnight Suns. I mean, unless you live in extreme poverty, an area that is being ravaged by climate change, you’re in the middle of a warzone, you’re starving, you’re working in a sweat shop, you’re being held against your will, you’re persecuted for your age, gender, sexual orientation, religious beliefs, or just having a shit time in your life. I don’t know where I was going with this. Midnight Suns looks cool.
The Callisto Protocol (PC/PS4/PS5/Xbox One/Series X|S) – Releases Dec. 2nd
Developed by: Striking Distance Studios
Published by: Krafton
If you think The Callisto Protocol looks a lot like Dead Space, well, that’s kind of intentional. Created by a team of Dead Space veterans, including series creator Glen Schofield, series designer Scott Whitney, series animation director Christopher Stone, and over 150 people who worked on the series, The Callisto Protocol is certainly looking to be a spiritual sequel. An interesting point of trivia, this game originally started out as a spin-off of PUBG, being set in the same universe, however the team eventually stepped away from this and made The Callisto Protocol its own thing, though with some easter eggs in regards to PUBG. Oh, what’s the game about, you might asking, well, you’re a dude on a Moon colony who is being attacked by monsters and it is very, very gory. Merry Christmas!
Need For Speed Unbound (PC/PS5/Series X|S) – Releases Nov. 29th
Developed by: Criterion Games
Published by: EA
Would believe me if I told you that this is the twenty-fifth game in the Need For Speed franchise? Yes, in 28 years there have been 25 games, that’s not bad. Honestly, though, I don’t think I’ve EVER played one, not sure why, I just haven’t. Still, this series is very popular and will certainly move some units this holiday season. Unbound continues the open world gameplay of its recent predecessors and will have a larger focus on underground street racing. The art style in Unbound is heavily influenced by graffitti art and uses a unique cel shading style to convey this aesthetic. I’m looking forward to betting this from Best Buy in 7 months for $3.99 and never playing it.
Soccer Story (PC/PS4/PS5/Switch/Xbox One/Series X|S) – Releases Nov. 29th
Developed by: PanicBarn
Published by: No More Robots
The evil corporation Soccer Inc. has shut down every single soccer stadium around the world because they’re dicks, I guess? Luckily, a magical soccer ball has chosen you, yes YOU, to be the one true soccer savior and bring this wonderful game back to the world! In case you’re not American, Soccer is Football.
Front Mission 1: Remake (Switch) – Releases Nov. 30th
Developed by: Forever Entertainment
Published by: Square Enix
“Andy, why isn’t this in the ‘Ports & Re-Releases section“? Because.
Warhammer 40k: Darktide (PC) – Releases Nov. 30th
Developed by: Fatshark
Published by: Fatshark
From the developer of Vermintide comes their latest foray into the co-op wave shooter genre, Darktide. Set in the Warhammer 40k universe, Darktide has four players working together to kill hordes of Chaos creatures. While Vermintide had pre-made characters to choose from, Darktide takes on a more RPG appraoch, with players choosing their class and then customizing their avatar as they see fit. Darktide will also be treated as more of a “live service” game than Vermintide (hooray, more of these…) with weekly updates to the game’s story and, of course, loot, loot, loot.
The rest of this week’s games are also pretty interesting, what a great week for games! We’ve got a new metroidvania with The Knight Witch, an N64 throw back with Super Kiwi 64, a romantic visual novel with Lover Pretend, and two re-releases/remasters with Elevator Action Returns S-Tribute (which might be its debut in the West) and Romancing SaGa: Minsterel Song. These seem like perfect digital stocking stuffers.
- The Knight Witch (PC/PS4/PS5/Switch/Xbox One/Series X|S) – Releases Nov. 29th
- Elevator Action Returns S-Tribute (PC/PS4/Switch/Xbox One) – Releases Nov. 30th
- Lover Pretend (Switch) – Releases Dec. 1st
- Romancing SaGa: Minsterel Song (PC/PS4/PS5/Xbox One) – Releases Dec. 1st
- Super Kiwi 64 (PC/Switch) – Releases Dec. 2nd
Notable Releases from 10, 20, and 30 (and sometimes 40) years ago:
Far Cry 3 (PC/PS3/Xbox 360) – Released Dec. 4th, 2012: Wiki Link
Notable Film Release: Life of Pi – Starring Suraj Sharma, Irrfan Khan, Rafe Spall, Tabu, Adil Hussain, and Gérard Depardieu
*Click here to watch the trailer*
Notable Album Release: Ke$ha – Warrior
*Click here to listen to the album*
After taking the reins from Crytek on Far Cry 2, Ubisoft went bigger and bolder with its follow up, Far Cry 3. In creating the game, Ubisoft stumbled upon their winning formula, one employed in each subsequent entry; an incredibly charismatic and memorable villain and a highly detailed open world with lots and LOTS of things to do. Now, are all of those things FUN to do? Eh, not really, but the story and characters are what really drive the game, along with all of that sweet, sweet gunplay.
Set in the fictional Rook Islands off the coast of Thailand, players take on the role of Jason, a young, energetic thrill seeker who is on vacation with his friends. After a skydiving expedition, Jason and his friends unknowingly end up in the territory of a group of pirates led by the sadistic Vaas Montenegro who intends to sell the group into slavery. Jason is knocked out and, after waking up, finds himself trapped in a cage with his brother Grant. Grant and Jason are able to escape the cage but are soon caught again by the pirates, with Grant being murdered. Jason is able to escape again and is rescued by a man named Dennis who takes him to the island’s native people. In order to prove his worth to the native people, called the Rakyat, Jason must perform various duties and tasks for them (it is an open world game, after all). Once he has impressed the tribe he is allowed to enter their sacred temple and partake in a trial.
Like any open world game, Far Cry 3 is just packed with things to do, allowing players to move the story forward at whatever pace they see fit. As you play through Far Cry 3, you begin to get more backstory on who Vaas is, while noticing Jason starting to become more and more violent & bloodthirsty, to the point that he doesn’t want to leave the island. Again, this is all fine, because there’s a ton of stuff to do like drive cool vehicles, go flying in a wing suit, hunt animals, assassinate people, craft items, go on supply runs, liberate areas controlled by the pirates, go on combat challenges, play poker, and search for hidden collectibles.
Far Cry 3 was held in very high regard by critics who called it one of the best games of the year. The stronger emphasis on story was a high mark for most critics who praised the game’s writers, and special attention was given to the Michael Mando’s performance as Vaas, hailing him as one of the greatest video game villains of all time. Praise was also given to the setting in Far Cry 3, with critics saying that the found the Rook Islands to be a diverse and interesting location. The island’s history was of particular interest and really helped set it apart from the first two Far Cry games. The gam received several year end accolades from various gaming outlets, and was nominated in seven categories at the DICE Awards, including Game of the Year, but failed to take home any trophies.
A stand-alone expansion called Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon was released in 2013 to critical acclaim, though it had nothing to do with the story of Far Cry 3, instead opting to be a parody of 1980’s b-movie science fiction action films. With the release of Far Cry 3 and Blood Dragon, Ubisoft were seen as the kings of open word, first person shooters. A mantle they would carry for several years and eventually run into the ground with highly formulaic releases. Far Cry 3 would get a remaster in 2018 for PS4 and Xbox One, making it fairly easy to play today. The Xbox 360 disc is also available to play on the XBone and Series X through backwards compatibility. For better or worse, Far Cry 3 started this whole open world FPS craze that seemed to take over part of the industry for the next decade and was clearly Ubisoft’s main bread & butter (plus Just Dance). If you’ve never played it I would recommend giving it a try, if only to see how good Ubisoft used to be.
Shinobi (PS2) – Released Nov. 10th, 2002: Wiki Link
Notable Film Release: Die Another Day – Starring Pierce Brosnan, Halle Berry, Toby Stephens, and Rosamund Pike
*Click here to watch the trailer*
Notable Album Release: MC Chris – Knowing Is Half the Hassle
*Click here to listen to the album*
After a seven year absence, the Shinobi franchise made its return to consoles in 2002 with the release of the PS2 exclusive, Shinobi. Developed by the Sega first party studio Overworks, Shinobi was originally intended to be made for the Dreamcast but, with the demise of the console, it was was decided to move the title onto Sony’s PlayStation 2 where it would be an exclusive release and not on the Xbox or GameCube, as the team didn’t have much familiarity with those console’s SDK’s, as well as its overall popularity. Overworks had a long history with Shinobi, creating the series and developing many of the early releases. They had intended to keep making games in the series for Genesis, Saturn, and Dreamcast, but their commitments to other titles, such as Streets of Rage and Clockwork Knight kept them from returning to Shinobi. However, as fate would have it, they would find themselves unburdened from their other commitments and able to move full steam ahead on a new Shinobi.
Shinobi games had traditionally been side scrolling efforts with players using shurikens to dispatch their enemies. With the PS2 Shinobi the team decided to move out of the 2d realm and into the 3d world. However, this change in format would make using shurikens accurately fairly difficult. To compensate, shurikens would automatically go to a nearby enemy but, overall, combat was shifted to focus more on swordplay. As for tone, the team at Overworks wanted to make a very fast-paced action game as opposed to the more slow-paced, stealth ninja games that were becoming more commonplace in video games. In an interview with IGN, the game’s producer talked about how he considered Shinobi an action-adventure game, but not as “adventure-y” as others. He described most action-adventure games as having an 80% adventure/20% action ratio, whereas Shinobi was more like a 40% adventure/60% action ratio. Cool.
Previous Shinobi games had centered on the character of Joe Musashi and was one of the most recognizable Sega characters after Sonic and Alex Kidd. However, for this new entry, the team decided to go with a new protagonist named Hotsuma. The change in protagonist came about from Overworks desire to have a darker, edgier main character, one that fit more in line with modern sensibilities. Long time fans didn’t need to worry though, as Musashi was available as an unlockable character, giving players the chance to play as him if they wanted that experience. As far as the story goes, a massive earthquake hits Tokyo and uncovers a massive golden palace. This also breaks the seal that was holding back an evil sorcerer named Hiruko, who has summoned a multitude of hellspawn to wreak havoc on the living. Hotsuma takes it upon himself to defeat the evil creatures and seal Hiruko back in his prison.
Set over eight levels, Shinobi is a third person, 3d action-adventure game with players moving at a frantic pace. They will run across walls, jump over chasms, and hack & slash their way to the boss of each level. There are famously no checkpoints in Shinobi, making it fairly difficult to get through and causing a lot of repetition. However, if players make it to the boss they will respawn in that arena and not require them to replay the entire level again. Hotsuma carries a cursed sword that feeds on the souls of whoever it kills but, if players take too long to kill an enemy, the sword will begin to feast on Hotsuma’s soul, draining his life. This adds to the game’s frantic pace as players will need to constantly kill enemies to satisfy their sword’s bloodlust. You rarely have time to stop killing and will find yourself jumping from enemy to enemy, adding a sort of platforming element to the game.
Critics were mostly pleased with Shinobi, highlighting how fast the game was and praising the high levels of blood and gore. There was some push back on how “arcade-y” the game felt, as a lot of action-adventure games featured far more adventure, but they appreciated how Shinobi brought gaming back to its roots of pure, unhindered fun. The game’s difficulty raised more than a few eyebrows with almost every critic saying that Shinobi was far more difficult than any of the previous entries and that casual gamers should probably stay away from it. In a world before Dark Souls, Shinobi was among the toughest anyone had ever seen. The game’s level design and kill, die, repeat gameplay got stale after a while, leading some critics to call the game boring, despite the heavy focus on action & gore.
Shinobi sold almost one million copies worldwide, with the majority sold in the US. However, based on population size, the game was most successful in Japan, as you might imagine. This wasn’t a landmark achievement in sales, but it was enough to let Sega greenlight a sequel, Nightshade, which came out in Japan in 2003 and N.A. in 2004. Sadly, Shinobi is not available on any modern consoles, making the physical version locked to the PS2. However, if you own a PS3 you can buy a digital copy of the game and play it there which I highly recommend you do. The last Shinobi game to release was on the 3DS in 2011, making this the longest we’ve gone without a new Shinobi title. Will it ever come back? I hope so.
Streets of Rage 2 (Genesis) – Released Dec. 20th, 1992: Wiki Link
Notable Film Release: The Crying Game – Starring Stephen Rea, Miranda Richardson, Jaye Davidson, and Forest Whitaker
*Click here to watch the trailer*
Notable Album Release: Reba McEntire – It’s Your Call
*Click here to listen to album*
While the first Streets of Rage had been a modest success, it was the game’s sequel, Streets of Rage 2 that solidified the series as on of the classics. Highly regarded by critics as one of the best Sega Genesis games of all time, Streets of Rage 2 is a tour de force of brawling combat with a killer soundtrack that has also been noted as one of the greatest of all time. Hey, if you haven’t played this game, what the fuck are you waiting for?
Streets of Rage 2 is a 2d, side scrolling brawler not unlike Final Fight. The series was, initially, started as a way to compete with Capcom’s brawler, but with the second game the team at Sega decided to go a little more in their own direction, making the game a little grittier, a little edgier, and a little more realistic (despite having space aliens as enemies…). However, Capcom’s influence was still felt in Streets of Rage 2, with the team taking inspiration from Street Fighter II in regards to combat.
This and last week’s Sonic the Hedgehog 2 were the first Genesis games I owned, and I fucking LOVED both of them. My buddies would come over and we’d take turns playing the game’s two player mode, brawling and scraping with all of the various goons like Y. Signal, G. Signal, Surger, Talk, and R. Signal, just to name a few. At times we would just stop playing and listen to the music, soaking in those sick beats and pulsing bass lines. God damn I love Streets of Rage 2.
You know who else loved it? Critics and players did. It received universal praise in the gaming press, earning near perfect scores across the board (except from Famitsu who seemed to dislike the game, scoring 26 out of 40). Sales wise, Streets of Rage 2 was one of the top selling games of 1993 and debuted at number one in the UK when it released. Subsequent re-releases on Xbox 360, PS3, and mobile devices have put the game well over 2 million copies sold. It would receive a few end of year accolades from various Sega oriented publications and, in a fairly gross category, the character of Blaze was named “Hottest Video Game Babe” by EGM. Streets of Rage 2 fairly easy to play today, either as a downloaded title on 360, PS3, 3DS, & PC, or as part of the Sega Genesis Classics collection on modern consoles. In case it wasn’t clear, I really like this game, A LOT, and I hope you do too. If I could leave you with just one piece of wisdom, it’s this: Do! BASEBALL!
E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial (Atari 2600) – Released Dec. 1982: Wiki Link
Notable Film Release: The Last Unicorn – Starring Alan Arkin, Jeff Bridges, Mia Farrow, Angela Lansbury, and Christopher Lee
*Click here to watch the trailer*
Notable Album Release: Bob Seger & The Silver Bullet Band – The Distance
*Click here to listen to album*
While Streets of Rage 2 could arguably be one of the greatest video games of all time, E.T. is, without a doubt, one of the worst video games of all time. E.T. was one of the biggest films of 1982, debuting in June and sitting in the top ten for most of, if not all of, its time in theatres. Hell, even the week this game came out, E.T. was still the number one movie in America (followed by a re-release of The Empire Strikes Back). Having a licensed video game tie-in was a given, with everyone at Atari and Universal seeing dollar signs. To claim the license Atari would have to pay a hefty sum, around $25 million (close to $70 million in 2022), but they anticipated they would make that money back, and then some. They were wrong.
With the rights won on July 27th of 1982, Atari tasked one of the designers, Howard Scott Warshaw, to develop the game. There was one other thing too, Steven Spielberg had personally asked for Warshaw to be made designer based on his work on Yars’ Revenge and the Raiders of the Lost Ark video game. Warshaw was told that he needed to have the game fully completed by September 1st, a mere 36 days away. Typically, a game would take roughly a year to develop, Warshaw was asked to do it in a little over 1/12th of the time. For a game based on one of the biggest films in cinema history, this was a tall order.
Knowing that the task at hand was monumental, and would likely consume Warshaw’s life for five weeks, Atari paid him $200k and set up an all expenses paid vacation to Hawaii. Warshaw was excited to take on the challenge and hoped to make a unique game that was unlike anything people had seen before. After coming up with some initial concepts, Warshaw would fly in a private jet to Los Angeles on a regular basis to meet with Spielberg and discuss ideas for the game.
Warshaw’s big idea was to put players into a six sided world in which they would float around as E.T., collecting items to build the device that would allow him to “phone home”. Like the film, the primary antagonists were adults, chasing E.T. as we attempts to gather supplies. Now, where were these supplies, you might ask? They were in pits; massive, massive pits. Players would guide E.T. into these pits, hoping that, by some miracle, it would contain one of the items they needed. However, getting out of the pits were almost impossible due to poor controls and technical limitations.
During the first meeting with Steven Spielberg, Warshaw gave him the run down of how the game would work and what he envisioned to be the overall goal. Spielberg seemed to have a puzzled look on his face and basically said “Can you make it more like Pac-Man“? Warshaw took didn’t agree with this idea, stating that doing a Pac-Man clone would be highly derivative and not capture the sentimentality and adventure of the film. In retrospect, Warshaw wished he would have listened to Spielberg.
With very little time to develop the game and get it into the market, Atari forego any kind of public testing of the game. They seemed to know that the game wasn’t very good, however they were confident it would still be a massive success as their port of Pac-Man sold phenomenally well despite the scathing reviews. Anticipation for the game was very high before release, something along the lines of what you might expect for a new Grand Theft Auto or Zelda game. When it released, E.T. sold over 1 million copies on the first week, with another 2.5 million sold by the end of 1982. However, over 600,000 copies would be returned to Atari by retailers, claiming that the game just wasn’t moving units.
Yes, the schoolyard talk had begun, kids hated E.T.. The game was confusing, poorly programmed, hard to control and, most of all, not fun. The concept of jumping into a hole, then climbing out of the hole, then jumping into another hole, then climbing out of that hole, over and over and over was beyond banal and bordered on an exercise in masochism. E.T. was truly awful and soured A LOT of parents on video games, leading to the great video game crash of 1983, which we’ll discuss in greater detail next Christmas (see you then).
Despite its notorious reputation, E.T. is still seen as one of the most important video games ever made. It was one of the earliest films to be adapted into a video game and set a kind of “shit quality” standard for all movie tie-in games to come. Warshaw doesn’t seem to have many regrets about making E.T., and is proud of the work he did in such a short amount of time. He also takes solace in that he sits at both ends of the video game spectrum, having created one of the greatest games of all time (Yars’ Revenge) and on of the worst of all time (E.T.), I’m sure the paycheck didn’t hurt either. This would, however, be Warshaw’s last video game as he would leave Atari following the 1983 crash, leaving behind an unfinished title, Saboteur. Warshaw is not shy about his work in video games, often appearing in retrospective documentaries and at various video game exhibits in museums around the world.
As for the fate of E.T., well, the rumor was that Atari had made far too many copies of the game and, based on the poor reception, had buried them deep underground at a landfill in New Mexico. This rumor became one of the all time great urban legends in video games, so much so that a documentary film crew went to the landfill where these cartridges were supposedly buried. After three hours of digging the crew struck plastic gold, finding a variety of games, including E.T. It turns out that after Atari shut down its Texas manufacturing plant, they took over 700k unsold games to the landfill and buried them, with only a small percentage being copies of E.T. Only 1,300 games were excavated due to permit and time limitations, with 700 given to the city of Alamogordo to sell, 100 given to the film companies who financed & produced the film, and 500 given to the Smithsonian.
You might be thinking about playing this game, well don’t. It’s terrible, just terrible, and you have so many other things you could be doing with your life like eating a sandwich or clipping your fingernails. Still, if you do somehow still want to give this a try, well, your only option is emulation. There’s no legal way to play E.T., though you could call up the city of Alamogordo and see how much their landfill copies are going for.