It’s a light week for new games, thank goodness because I needed a break. Once again, there’s only really one major game of note with everything else just kind of there to fill various niche tastes and maybe act as some kind of counter programming, I guess? Let’s get real, though, you’re probably not going to play any of these because why start a new game when you know that a new Zelda game is coming next week. OMG, I can’t believe a new Zelda is finally coming!
Fun video fact, the skit for Poker Night 2 was written, shot, and edited in a little over 24 hours. I hope you enjoy it.
Redfall (PC/Series X|S) – Releases May 2nd
Developed by: Arkane Austin
Published by: Bethesda Softworks
The marketing around Redfall has not been very helpful in trying to determine what the game actually is. Is it a 4 player co-op shooter like Left 4 Dead? Is it a looter shooter like Borderlands? Is it a Ubisoft-esque open world FPS game like Far Cry? Is it a live service shooter like Destiny? Maybe it’s none of these and it’s exactly like Arkane Austin’s last game, Prey. Whatever Redfall eventually turns out to be, they’ve completely lost me due to the muddy messages and bizarre review embargo that lifts, like, 2 hours before the game’s official release. If you are a Game Pass subscriber then I guess there’s no harm in checking this out, if you aren’t (or you don’t own a Series X or PC), well, maybe just skip this one until it’s on sale.
Update (08:10am PT): The reviews are in and, my god, Redfall is shaping up to be one of the worst AAA games of 2023, even worse than Forspoken, which is at least kinda/sorta fun to play. This is a terrible look for Arkane, Bethesda, and Microsoft, and only puts more pressure on Starfield to justify Microsoft’s massive spending spree on developers a couple of years ago.
Oh, and fuck this trailer and it’s cliched cover of “Black Hole Sun”. Can we stop this trend already?
Age of Wonders 4 (PC/PS5/Series X|S) – Releases May 2nd
Developed by: Triumph Studios
Published by: Paradox Interactive
The isometric strategy series Age of Wonders celebrates its 24th anniversary this year, so am I the asshole for not knowing anything about this series? The last numbered entry came out in 2014, with a sci-fi spin-off, Planetfall, releasing back in 2019. I’m sure there are plenty of you that will be excited by this latest entry, and I have to admit that it looks really cool. Still, it’s published by Paradox which aren’t quite known for their stellar track record for games at launch (typically very barebones, price gouge you with DLC that “finishes” the game). I might check this out when all the DLC finally comes out and Steam puts it on sale for $0.85 cents.
Showgunners (PC) – Releases May 2nd
Developed by: Artificer
Published by: Good Shepard Entertainment
Every time I try to search for information about this game I get asked “Do you mean ‘Showrunners’? You must mean ‘Showrunners’, here’s information about television series showrunners and the Steam game ‘Showrunners’. This must THRILL the developers of Showgunners, a new tactical shooter, similar to XCOM. Set in a dystopian future, Showgunners has players taking on the role of contestants in a psychotic game show. Players must avoid traps and kill anyone who gets in their way in order to win fame and fortune. Oh, and the developer is super proud that their game has native Twitch integration so you can stream it for all your viewers!!!!!!!!! WOOO!!! TWITCH STREAMING!!!!! LET’S FUCKING GO!!!! *Makes jerking off motion with hand*
Ravenlok (PC – Epic Exclusive/Xbox One/Series X|S) – Releases May 3rd
Developed by: Cococucumber
Published by: Cococucumber
Step through the looking glass into a land of wonder as you join
Alice Ravenlok on a magical adventure. Meet a white rabbit and fight an evil queen who also happens to be a caterpillar. This Xbox console exclusive looks kind of neat, but also a bit shallow. I can see this being a future “hidden gem”, flying under the radar for a few years, only to get discovered by future players looking for something cheap and serviceable.
Notable Releases from 10, 20, and 30 (and sometimes 40) years ago:
Poker Night 2 (PC/PS3/Xbox 360) – Released Apr. 30th, 2013: Wiki Link
Notable Film Release: Iron Man 3 – Starring Robert Downey Jr., Gwyneth Paltrow, Don Cheadle, Guy Pearce, Rebecca Hall, and Ben Kingsley
*Click here to watch the trailer*
Notable Album Release: Fitz and the Tantrums – More Than Just a Dream
*Click here to listen to the album*
Telltale’s Poker Night at the Inventory was a surprise success for the studio, as they didn’t expect much from it due to it’s kind of “thrown together” nature while the developer was in a lull between games. While the idea of a poker game isn’t very interesting on its own to most players, adding in recognizable characters from different video game properties, all interacting with one another, is a really good way to draw people in. That’s what made Poker Night so unique and so much fun.
For their next Poker Night outing, Telltale branched out into the world of film & television for their characters, with Brock Samson from The Venture Bros. and Ash from Evil Dead joining Claptrap from Borderlands and Sam from Sam & Max. Along with the four poker players, GLaDOS from Portal was added to the game as the dealer, while Borderlands’ Mad Moxxie tends to the bar that losing players adjourn to when they lose all their money and, after appearing as a player in the first game, Max shows up to root on Sam. Before Telltale settled on Sam they had considered either Doc Brown or Marty McFly but realized they didn’t quite fit into a game that would contain swearing and gambling. Another idea they floated around was to have a character from their Walking Dead game be one of the players but, rightly, avoided that as well, fearing people would get too emotional.
Gameplay doesn’t differ much from the first Poker Night game; players take on the role of a silent character who joins the four other players at the poker table. They engage in a Texas Hold ‘Em tournament, hoping to be the grand prize winner of $100,000 dollars. During the game, each of the four characters engage in comedic conversations and berate or compliment the player controlled character based on how good or bad they are doing. With a bar nearby, players can use some of their earnings to buy the other players drinks, causing them to play poorly and be more obvious with their tells.
While Poker Night 2 didn’t take the world by storm, it did receive mostly favorable reviews. At its core, there is a really solid, really fun Texas Hold ‘Em game here, certainly as engaging and interesting as any other digital representation of the game. What makes Poker Night 2 special is, of course, the characters and the humorous dialogue. Sadly, because of the collapse of Telltale, Poker Night 2 is no longer available for sale on any platform, meaning if you didn’t buy it back when it came out, well, you’re screwed. I won’t tell you that Poker Night 2 is one of the greatest video games ever made or that your life will change because of it, but it’s fun, and sometimes that is all a video game needs to be.
Castlevania: Aria of Sorrow (GBA) – Released May 6th, 2003: Wiki Link
Notable Film Release: X2: X-Men United – Starring Patrick Stewart, Hugh Jackman, Ian McKellen, Halle Berry, Famke Janssen, James Marsden, Rebecca Romijn-Stamos, Alan Cumming, Anna Paquin, and Brian Cox
*Click here to watch the trailer*
Notable Album Release: NOFX – The War on Errorism
*Click here to listen to the album*
Out of this week’s notable title, Castlevania: Aria of Sorrow is my favorite. Not to say all the others are bad, they’re all quite good, actually, but Castlevania is the top dog, for sure. Last week I kind of talked smack about metroidvania’s and asked why we had so many. Do I see the irony that I like one the next week? Yeah, kind of, but if you have too much of something it can start to make you sick, and I think there are just too many metroidvania’s out there today. ANYWAY, let’s talk about Aria of Sorrow, the third and final original Castlevania game to be released for the Game Boy Advance.
Developed alongside the previous GBA Castlevania title, Harmony of Disonance, Aria of Sorrow leaps ahead almost 300 years in the timeline, to 2035, with players taking on the role of a high school student named Soma Cruz. While visiting an ancient shrine with his friend Mina, the two students witness a solar eclipse and, somehow, get transported to Dracula’s castle which, of course, resides INSIDE of the solar eclipse. After a brief exploration, Mina is attacked by monsters and kidnapped, enraging Soma who defeats the creature and absorbs its soul. This is the main crux of the combat in Aria of Sorrow, with players constantly battling monsters in order to have their soul randomly drop, giving Soma various attacks and abilities.
While in the castle, Soma meets two different men with two different motives. The first is Genya Arikado, a government agent who tells Soma all about the castle and his new powers. The second is an overly zealous missionary named Graham Jones who is really, really obsessed with Dracula (who is dead) and a prophecy that says a new Dracula will be born in the year 2035. There are some other characters too, but Genya and Graham are the most important (I think).
After that, well, you basically play this like you do any other Castlevania game. There’s a large map to fill out, monsters to kill, equipment to find, and abilities to unlock. One major addition to the game was the ability to trade souls with other players. Yes, even Castlevania took inspiration from Pokémon, shocker. With Aria of Sorrow, producer Koji Igarashi wanted to take the series in a different direction by setting it in the far future, though that seems to really be the only major change, as the game plays almost identically to every entry before it. That’s not a bad thing, in my opinion, but I don’t know if this game did enough to set itself apart from its predecessors.
Differences or not, Aria of Sorrow was overwhelmingly praised by critics, with many comparing it favorably to Symphony of the Night. According to Wikipedia, Aria of Sorrow is the highest rated Castlevania game in Famitsu, though I’m having a hard time verifying that. Still, it’s score of 36/40 is really, really good. Overall, critics were really impressed with the game and thought it was a major improvement over the previous GBA Castlevania game. The character of Soma Cruz became popular with the team, leading him to star in his own sequel, Dawn of Sorrow on the DS, and would later appear in two other games, Harmony of Despair, as a playable character, and Grimoire of Souls, as a boss.
Playing Aria of Sorrow today is, thankfully, very easy on modern consoles through the release of the Castelvania Advance Collection for PC, PS4, PS5, Switch, Xbox One, and Xbox Series X|S. Folks, this game rules, there’s not much else to say about it. Play it, right now; go!
Kirby’s Adventure (NES) – Released May 1993: Wiki Link
Notable Film Release: Indecent Proposal – Starring Robert Redford, Demi Moore, and Woody Harrelson
*Click here to watch the trailer*
Notable Album Release: Rancid – Rancid
*Click here to listen to album*
Today’s Nintendo fan is spoiled, having ONE system that can be played either on your television or on the go. Imagine, if you will, a world where you needed to have two separate devices if you wanted to game in both the living room and the school bus. Continue to imagine that, in order to play a new game on both devices, you had to buy TWO games! The horror! In another scenario, the one I was personally in, imagine that your parents don’t have a lot of money and you only have a home console. Well then I guess “fuck me”, I’ll never get to play a Kirby game…until this classic came along!
Initially, Nintendo just wanted developer HAL to port their Game Boy game Kirby’s Dream Land to the NES, but director Masahiro Sakurai had a different plan. The Dream Land was created with beginner players in mind, with simple controls, simple gameplay, and simple graphics. It was great in its own way, but it wasn’t very meaty. NES players had, by 1993, almost a decade of experience with video games and were seen as much more capable players. The idea of putting a very simple Game Boy game on the NES didn’t seem right, so Sakurai and his team came up with an entirely new game, Kirby’s Adventure.
The gameplay in Kirby’s Adventure is basically the same as it was for Dream Land, though it contained one update that has now become a series staple, copy abilities. While most enemies can only be sucked up and either spit out or swallowed, a few of them will grant Kirby a special ability when swallowed, such as granting him the ability to spit fire, use a sword, or cover his body in spikes, just to name a few. On top of the copy abilities, Kirby was also given a slide attack and moved much faster than he did on the Game Boy, to both make he game more complex and contain faster pacing. Not wanting to completely alienate younger/less experienced players, several mini-games were added as well that were easy to play, including a crane game and a game where you would swallow eggs while avoiding bombs.
While players today know Kirby is pink, back in 1992/1993 we all had no idea. Sakurai has said that he always envisioned Kirby as being pink, but to the general public, and even many of the staff at HAL and Nintendo, they assumed Kirby was white, like a little ghost, perpetuated by the Game Boy and its monochromatic screen. When Kirby was revealed to be pink it was somewhat of a surprise to the HAL and Nintendo teams, they honestly had no idea. A little fun fact, Meta Knight, Kirby’s lifelong rival, makes a cameo appearance in Kirby’s Adventure as an unnamed boss; neat!
Kirby’s Adventure was very well received by critics, even getting a perfect score in GamePro magazine. The new copy ability mechanic was a particular highlight for critics, with praise also given to the level design and the incredibly tight controls. In classic critic oxymoron fashion, some believed that the game was too hard for less experienced fans of Kirby, while others thought the game was far too easy for experienced players. However, almost everyone agreed that the sprites were way too small, despite HAL making an effort to increase Kirby’s size in comparison to his Game Boy version.
While there were Virtual Console releases of Kirby’s Adventure for Wii and Wii U, with the eShop closed your only way to play this today is on the Switch as part of the NES library for Nintendo Switch Online subscribers. I really like Kirby’s Adventure, it’s a great swan song for what was then the aging NES and really captures what made that system so successful. That Kirby is still going strong today is a testament to just how talented the team at HAL was and how much they had their finger on the pulse of what players, particularly young players, wanted to see in their video games. I hope you’ll give Kirby’s Adventure a shot.
Star Wars (Arcade) – Released May 5th, 1983: Wiki Link
Notable Film Release: Return of the Jedi – Starring Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford, and Carrie Fisher
*Click here to watch the trailer*
Notable Album Release: New Order – Power, Corruption & Lies
*Click here to listen to album*
Despite releasing 1977 and being, ostensibly, in the same “nerd” ballpark as video games, it took six years, and the end of the trilogy, to finally release a Star Wars video game. Called, simply, Star Wars, the game was a vector based flight simulator that had players taking part in the Battle of Yavin, seen at the end of the first Star Wars film (A New Hope). The game is split into three phases, first the players take on several waves of TIE fighters in the space around the Death Star, next they attack gun turrets and TIE’s on the surface of the Death Star before finally entering the famous trench where they must shoot more gun turrets before finally launching torpedoes into the exhaust port of the Death Star, blowing it up.
Development on Star Wars began in 1981, though it wasn’t a licensed title at that time and was an original game called Warp Speed. The game was being developed by a man named Ed Rotberg, using the same kind of vector graphics that he used in Battlezone. When Rotberg left the company in late 1981, another group of programmers took over and, after acquiring the Star Wars license, converted Warp Zone into the eponymous vide game.
Star Wars was a massive financial success for developer Atari, with the game leading the sales charts for 1983. Critics were also highly impressed with the game, praising the gameplay, graphics, and sound, including digitized voices from the films. The reputation of Star Wars continued to grow over the years, with the game regularly appearing on multiple “Greatest Games of All Time” lists. Unfortunately there is no legal way to play this game on modern consoles, with the most recent port being on the GameCube, where the game was an unlockable item in Star Wars Rogue Squadron III: Rebel Strike. Star Wars is a classic, meant to be enjoyed at an arcade while drinking fountain Coke and eating nachos. Someone build a time machine so we can all go back and experience it.
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