New Game Releases 01/17/23 – 01/23/23

Well, well, well, January is in FULL EFFECT, isn’t it? After releasing Pokémon Legends Arceus, Nintendo is once again bringing out the big guns for January. Will Fire Emblem take over all your gaming time or are you holding out for Hogwarts Legacy in February? HAHAHAHAH, J/K, I know you aren’t waiting for Hogwarts, come on now.

 

Top Releases:

Fire Emblem Engage (Switch) – Releases Jan. 20th

Developed by: Intelligent Systems
Published by: Nintendo

It’s been three and a three and a half years since the release of the last Fire Emblem game, Three Houses, if you can believe it. For its latest entry, Engage, the team at Intelligent Design have dialed back the social aspect of Three Houses to focus more on the combat portion of the game. While players will still have a home base where they can interact with their comrades, there is less focus on making friends and more focus on increasing their combat stats. While Three Houses had the gimmick of you playing the game three times with different leaders, the gimmick in Engage come from the new “Emblem Rings”, which are special items that allow players to summon main characters from previous Fire Emblem games and use them as units in battle. The confirmed characters, so far, are Marth, Celica, Sigurd, Lyn, Corrin, and Byleth. An expansion for the game has already been announced and will add even more previous protagonists like Edelgard, Dimitri, Claude, Tiki, Roy, Erika, Ephraim, Ike, Micaiah, and Lucina. Does the reliance on pulling in old characters mean that our new ones won’t be as fleshed out? Is this part of the reason why you spend less time getting to know the personal lives of your troops? I don’t know, but I’m going to find out this week when I dive head first into the game.

RE:CALL (PC/Switch/Series X|S) – Releases Jan. 17th

Developed by: maitan69
Published by: Whitehorn Games

RE::CALL is a narrative puzzle game where players must go into their memories of the past in order to solve puzzles in the present. That’s it, that’s all I got.

Tortuga – A Pirate’s Tale (PC – Epic Games Store Exclusive/PS4/PS5/Switch/Xbox One/Series X|S) – Releases Jan. 18th

Developed by: Gaming Minds Studios
Published by: Kalypso Media

Huh, publishers are still doing exclusive releases with Epic Games Store? Since this is a Kalypso title I would expect it to be a full game by the time it hits Steam after the timed exclusivity.

Colossal Cave (PC/PS5/Switch/Series X|S/Meta Quest 2) – Releases Jan. 19th

Developed by: Cygnus Entertainment
Published by: Cygnus Entertainment

Video game legend Roberta Williams is back with her first game since 1998’s King’s Quest: Mask of Eternity (she helped with a Facebook game in 2014 as well, but meh). Colossal Cave is a re-imagining of a 1976 text based adventure game, one of the first ever made, and was the game that drove Williams to enter the video game industry. With a non-linear exploration system, players can spend hours getting lost in the many mysteries that make up the colossal cave. Oh, and you can do it in VR too, if you like.

 

Ports and Re-releases:

Persona 3 Portable & Persona 4 Golden (PC/PS4/Switch/Xbox One/Series X|S) – Releases Jan. 19th

Finally.

Monster Hunter Rise (PS4/PS5/Xbox One/Series X|S) – Releases Jan. 20th

The former Switch console exclusive is now making its way to PlayStation and Xbox, boasting better graphics and faster load times. Still, the game is now pushing two years on the market, is there much demand left for it? I mean, Capcom certainly must be working on a new entry by now, right?

 

Everything else:

Well, we’re finally at a place where the idea of a “retro inspired city builder” is something people are looking for, so if that does anything for you then check out Farlanders. Other than that, we have a (maybe) new shoot ’em up called Graze Counter GM, followed by a point & click adventure game, A Space for the Unbound, which might actually be a prominent indie release. Who knows?

 

Notable Releases from 10, 20, and 30 years ago:

Ni no Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch (PS3) – Released Jan. 22nd, 2013: Wiki Link

Notable Film Release: The Last Stand – Starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, Forest Whitaker, Johnny Knoxville, Luis Guzman, Rodrigo Santoro, Jaimie Alexander, and Peter Stormare.
*Click here to watch the trailer*
Notable Album Release: Toro y Moi – Anything in Return
*Click here to listen to the album*

The 2013 title Ni No Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch was notable for being the first game to be worked on by the legendary Japanese animation company Studio Ghibli. Best known for films like My Neighbor Totoro and Spirited Away, and Kiki’s Delivery Service, Studio Ghibli had a sterling reputation among fans of animation. When it was announced that they’d be partnering up with one of the most well regarded JRPG video game studios, Level-5, creators of Dark Cloud and Professor Layton, as well as being the developers of Dragon’s Quest VIII & IX, expectations were high. While in the West, Wrath of the White Witch appeared to be the first Ni No Kuni game, but that was not the case. In fact, it was kind of a remake.

Released in 2010 for the DS, Ni No Kuni: Dominion of the Dark Djinn was a Japan only exclusive that had players taking on the role of a young wizard named Oliver. Having just lost his mother to an accident, Oliver meets the king of the fairies and is whisked away to a parallel universe where animals and humans live in harmony, but are under constant threat from an evil Djinn named Jabou. Oliver is destined to defeat the Djinn and bring peace to this “other world”, but still reeling over his mother’s death, Oliver has reservations about going. The fairy king, Shizuku, tells Oliver that he can save his mother in the Earth realm if he can find a way to free her soul mate from a prison in the “other world”. Eager to be reunited with his mother, Oliver joins Shizuku and sets out on an adventure to save his mother and stop Jabou.

If this sounds at all familiar to you, well, that’s because it’s the same plot as Wrath of the White Witch, with just a few changes to the names. Oliver is still the main protagonist, with Jabou being changed to Shadar, and Shizuku being renamed Drippy. Both Dominion of the Dark Djinn and Wrath of the White Witch were developed in tandem, keeping the same basic story structure and using side quests as a way to differentiate the two games. While playing Wrath of the White Witch, you may notice that Oliver’s spells appear to have some kind of symbol attached to it. In the DS game, Dominion of the Dark Djinn, players would need to draw the spell on the bottom screen in order for it to work. Level-5 had toyed with the idea of making players purchase the PS Move peripheral in order to play Wrath of the White Witch but, ultimately, decided against it, as market researched showed that the casual crowd was slowing down and were done buying video game peripherals.

For the game’s story, Level-5 took a page out of the Ghibli playbook and made their protagonist a young boy. In this case, Oliver is a 13-year-old boy that loves fast cars, is good with his hands, and is quick on his toes. Level-5 had made a conscious effort to make Wrath of the White Witch easy enough for young children while also hiding a fairly deep leveling system, buried in the menus. With the release of Dominion of the Dark Djinn, Level-5 was able to introduce Japanese players to Oliver and his companions in the “other world”. For its PS3 counterpart, Level-5 partnered with Studio Ghibli who would animate all of the game’s cutscenes. The announcement of Studio Ghibli’s partnership was huge news and pre-release hype for Wrath of the White Witch was through the roof.

Ni No Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch released in Japan first in November of 2011, with the North American release happening a little over a year later in January of 2013. The game received universal acclaim for its visuals, art direction, music, story, characters, and game play. To critics, Wrath of the White Witch was the complete package and had the makings of an all-time classic. Players were also to Ni No Kuni and, a year after its North American release, the game would go on to sell over 1 million copies worldwide. Wrath of the White Witch would receive several accolades at the end of the year, being called one of the best PS3 exclusives ever made, winning RPG of the Year at both the Spike VGA’s and the Satellite Awards. It took home prizes for its animation, art direction, and sound from multiple outlets, and was listed in a few “Best of…” lists for 2013.

Ni No Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch remained a PS3 exclusive for several years before being upscaled and re-released for modern consoles, starting with PC, PS4, and Switch in 2019, and finally hitting Xbox One & Series X|S in 2022. A sequel, Ni No Kuni II: Revenant Kingdom came to PC and PS4 in 2018, as well as a mobile spin-off, Cross Worlds, debuting in 2021/2022. I absolutely adore this game. I played it briefly in 2013 when it came out and was charmed by its kind of Pokémon-esque aesthetic (you collect monsters called “familiars”), but got caught up in other games (mostly GTA V). After diving back into the game a couple of weeks ago I instantly fell in love with it. Ni No Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch is, by far, one of the most charming video games I’ve ever played. While it does fall into the same kind of JRPG tropes that turn people off (mind numbing grinding, persistent backtracking, fetch quests, a “simple” good vs. evil story) the presentation is stellar, making this a must play for both JRPG and Studio Ghibli fans.

The Getaway (PS2) – Released Jan. 19th, 2003: Wiki Link

Notable Film Release: Kangaroo Jack – Starring Jerry O’Connell, Anthony Anderson, Estella Warren, Michael Shannon, and Christopher Walken
*Click here to watch the trailer*
Notable Album Release: Yoko Kanno – Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex O.S.T.
*Click here to listen to the album*

Following the success of Grand Theft Auto III, multiple companies would release titles that fit into the open world crime simulator mold. While The Getaway appears to be one of those “GTA clones”, the developer behind it, Team Soho, claimed that they had been working on The Getaway since the days of the original PlayStation. After the release of their 1997 racing game, Porsche Challenge, the Team Soho developers decided to create a new game that tasked players with carrying out various crime based missions while driving a car. This concept would also be used by Reflections Interactive when making the game Driver and, of course, Rockstar for it’s upcoming GTA III (though they would expand on the concept).

A PSX prototype was built using the engine and assets from Porsche Challenge, however the team began to realize that their ambition was too big for the low spec, and nearly retired, PlayStation. As a first party subsidiary of Sony, Team Soho was able to get to work fairly early on the PS2, where they would put together another demo for their open world driving game, setting the story in London. Sometime during development, the team was made aware of the Dreamcast title Metropolis Street Racer, which boasted about being able to recreate several city blocks in central London. Wanting to take a swipe at Sega, Sony asked Team Soho to accurately recreate 70 square miles of London, to show the technological superiority of the PS2. The team was up to the task but in the end they could only fit up to 10 square miles of London into their game.

While this was still an impressive feat, the technical aspect of it was a complete nightmare for Team Soho, proving to be incredibly challenging to pull off. Not only was it challenging, but it was incredibly time consuming and was likely one of the chief reasons why the game would be delayed multiple times. Recreating London wasn’t the only thing that Team Soho was doing to make the game realistic. For the game’s many cutscenes, Team Soho used sophisticated facial capture technology to make the in-game characters resemble their real-life counterparts as closely as possible. Another way the developers kept the game “realistic” was by eliminating all on screen displays, with not a single HUD on screen. While titles like GTA showed players their health, ammo count, and gave directions on where to go by either using an on-screen arrow on mini-map, Team Soho’s game did away with all of that. Players would need to keep track of their ammo, and would need to pay attention to their characters physical condition to gauge how much health they had left. As for navigation, your vehicles turn signal would start blinking if you needed to turn left or right. This was a choice, for sure.

Sony and Team Soho started teasing images of the game at E3 in 2000. Called The Getaway, the team took heavy inspiration from the gangster films of the 1970’s. While the game was shown behind closed doors for most of 2000 and 2001, the general public started to get more teases of The Getaway in 2002. The game released in Europe first in December of 2002 before making its way to North America in January of 2003. Critics were a bit mixed on the title, all of that pre-release hype kind of fizzled once they got their hands on the game for an extended period of time. While The Getaway received positive comparisons to GTA III for its tone and game play, it was heavily criticized for its lack of on screen display’s, its lackluster controls, and its generic, tired story. Magazine Entertainment Weekly was particularly brutal, scoring the game a D, calling it humorless and pretentious. Commercially, The Getaway was a success, selling nearly 4 million copies in its lifetime.

After completing production on The Getaway, Sony closed down Team Soho and merged them with another British developer, Studio Camden (formerly Psygnosis). This prompted the game’s director, Brendan McNamara to leave the company and found his own studio in Australia, Team Bondi. If that name is familiar to you, that’s because Team Bondi were behind the Rockstar published L.A. Noire. That game also featured sophisticated motion capture for facial expressions, something that McNamara learned while making The Getaway. Famously, Team Bondi was lambasted in the public eye for its brutal working conditions while developing L.A. Noire, causing the copany to be investigated by the International Game Developers Association. With that tangent aside, The Getaway is not currently available to play on any modern console, nor is its sequel, Black Monday. It’s unclear why Sony hasn’t released these games as digital downloads, but when it came time for The Getaway 3 to be developed, the entire project was scrapped by new SCE Worldwide Studios president Shuhei Yoshida, giving the impression that the franchise just wasn’t important to Sony anymore. The Getaway is a flawed game that isn’t a whole lot of fun to play, nor is it nice to look at, so don’t be too sad that you can’t play it anymore, you’re not missing much.

If you’re really interested in the making of The Getaway, I found this neat little video on YouTube:

Mario Is Missing! (PC) – Released Jan. 1993: Wiki Link

Notable Film Release: Alive – Starring Ethan Hawke, Josh Hamilton, John Haymes Newton, Jack Noseworthy, Vincent Spano, Josh Lucas, Illeana Douglas, Danny Nuci, and John Malkovich
*Click here to watch the trailer*
Notable Album Release: Snow – 12 Inches of Snow
*Click here to listen to album*

By 1993, Nintendo’s Mario character had become a household name, on par with the likes of Mickey Mouse and Ronald McDonald. Seeing Mario, or any Nintendo game, on another console was unthinkable (well, aside from early Donkey Kong releases), but in 1993, Mario, or more accurately Luigi, made his way to the PC in an effort to help kids learn geography & history. The title for this strange, new game, Mario Is Missing!

Developed an published by The Software Toolworks, best known for creating The Chessmaster and Mavis Beacon Teaches Typing, Mario Is Missing! is an educational game in which players control Luigi as he travels the globe, looking for stolen artifacts and returning them to their rightful place. Unlike standard Mario games where the action took place in the Mushroom Kingdom, Mario Is Missing! takes place in our world, with Luigi visiting cities like Paris, New York, and Tokyo. The general premise is that Bowser has come to Earth in order to melt Antarctica and flood the planet. To do this he must sell off priceless artifacts in order to buy enough blow dryers to melt the continent, a stupid plan, but whatever. Bowser kidnaps Mario this time, instead of Peach, and it is up to Luigi and Yoshi to thwart Bower’s plan.

There’s not much to go on in terms of HOW Nintendo allowed their creations to be used by another company, though the Wikipedia page says they were interested in jumping into the growing educational game market. While the PC version came out first, SNES and NES versions would follow shortly, with The Software Toolworks creating the Super Nintendo release, while Racical Entertainment would make the NES release (Radical would eventually become notable for creating The Simpsons: Hit & Run and the Prototype series). Suffice to say, some kind of deal was made to allow The Software Toolworks to use the Mario license for these games, with Nintendo having absolutely no involvement in their development.

Critics didn’t really care for Mario Is Missing!, awarding it fairly mediocre scores when it released. However, praise was given to the game for its efforts to try and teach children something and, they admitted, the game was squarely made FOR children, thus an adult really has no reason to play it. While I couldn’t find any concrete sales numbers, Wikipedia does claim that The Software Toolworks made over $7 million in profits on the NES and SNES versions alone in its debut quarter. While it’s pretty easy to pick up and play most Mario games today, playing Mario Is Missing! is a bit more challenging. The game is not available on any modern consoles, with emulation of the console versions, or finding a copy of the PC version on an abandonware site, your only options. As with The Getaway, there’s not much reason to play this game today apart form nostalgic purposes. You’re better off skipping it.


 

Andy Tuttle
Andy Tuttle

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