New Game Releases 06/13/23 – 06/19/23: Fifth Anniversary Special!

It’s time to pop the champagne cork and light the candles on the cake, because New Game Releases is celebrating its fifth anniversary right here on The Avocado! Every Tuesday since June of 2018 I’ve posted one of these columns, highlighting the newest games and giving some history on notable releases from the past 30 (sometimes 40) years. The videos started in 2020, mostly because I was bored during the pandemic, but this year they have grown into fully edited episodes that have brought me an incredible amount of joy. Thank you to everyone who stops by every Tuesday to read and to watch, you’ve made this all worth it.

Top Releases:

Dead by Daylight: End Transmission (PC/PS4/PS5/Switch/Xbox One/Series X|S) – Releases Jun. 13th

Developed by: Behaviour Interactive
Published by: Behaviour Interactive

Since it’s 2016 release, Dead by Daylight has survived (heh) a steady stream of competitors to remain one of the most popular asymmetric online multiplayer games in the world. Over the last seven years, developer Behaviour Interactive have put out 27 DLC chapters, each containing new survivors and a new killer, ranging from original creations to licensed properties like A Nightmare on Elm Street, Silent Hill, and Resident Evil. Their latest chapter, the 28th, is called End Transmission, and is an original story. In End Transmission, survivors will need to hide from the new killer, The Singularity, an alien, robot thing that is threatening to exterminate all of humanity. It’s up to new survivor Gabriel Soma to stop the creature. Good luck.

Escape Academy: Escape From the Past (PC/PS4/PS5/Xbox One/Series X|S) – Releases Jun. 19th

Developed by: Coin Crew Games
Published by: iam8bit

One of the biggest hidden gems from 2022, Escape Academy, is back with brand new DLC called Escape From the Past. If you’re not familiar with Escape Academy, it’s essentially an escape room game, with players moving from room to room in an elaborate academy for only the best puzzle solvers. In Escape From the Past, players will be taken back in time to play as younger versions of two of their professors, who have just been given their first big assignment at the academy. Sign me up.

Jack Jeanne (Switch) – Releases Jun. 15th

Developed by: Broccoli
Published by: Aksys Games

After a successful mobile release in Japan in 2021, the visual novel Jack Jeanne is coming to the West for the Nintendo Switch. In this game, players take on the role of Kisa, a talented young woman who has been accepted to a prestigious drama school. However, the school is only for males, so in order to remain enrolled, Kisa must hide her gender from everyone. This proves to be tough, as Kisa must form strong bonds with her castmates in the school play in order to ensure success. Can Kisa keep her identity a secret while also giving the best performance of her life? Yeah, probably.

Park Beyond (PC/PS5/Series X|S) – Releases Jun. 15th

Developed by: Limbic Entertainment
Published by: Bandai Namco

After a few years working on Might & Magic games for Ubisoft, developer Limbic Entertainment took a step into the sim genre with 2019’s Tropico 6 for publisher Kalypso. Working now with Bandai Namco, Limbic are putting out their theme park sim game, Park Beyond. While the game is, essentially, your standard theme park building sim, players will also be able to build unique rides that defy the laws of physics and gravity, and will make you puke.

F1 23 (PC/PS4/PS5/Xbox One/Series X|S) – Releases Jun. 16th

Developed by: Codemasters
Published by:  EA Sports

Last week we got a new motorcycle racing game. This week we have a new formula 1 racing game; great. Oh, and it looks like Devon Butler from Cop and a Half is back, so that’s nice.

Everything else:

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Hmm, what’s that? Oh, yeah, here’s two more games.

Notable Releases from 10, 20, and 30 (and sometimes 40) years ago:

The Last of Us (PS3) – Released Jun. 13th, 2013: Wiki Link

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Notable Film Release: Man of Steel – Starring Henry Cavill, Amy Adams, Michael Shannon, Kevin Costner, and Diane Lane
*Click here to watch the trailer*
Notable Album Release: Kanye West – Yeezus
*Click here to listen to the album*

Having made their name in the 1990’s and early 000’s on 3D platformers, developer Naughty Dog proved they could move into more mature territory with the action/adventure game Uncharted. The detail, the tight gameplay, the fleshed out characters, and the gripping story all contributed to Uncharted’s success. After the release of the second Uncharted game, Naughty Dog split up the company into two teams, one to focus on Uncharted 3 and another to focus on a brand new series, The Last of Us.

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Spearheaded by Bruce Strayley and Neil Druckmann, the idea for The Last of Us came from a concept that Druckmann had a few years earlier, in which he wanted to take the game Ico and set it in a George A. Romero zombie setting. The main protagonist would be a police officer, similar to the character of John Hartigan in Sin City, who would be tasked with protecting a young girl. Druckmann though it would be interesting to have players alternate between these two characters, forcing them to play as the young girl when the police officer dealt with heart issues, having to protect him from zombies.

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Taking this idea and expanding on it, the team was inspired by a segment on the BBC documentary Planet Earth, in which Cordyceps fungi would infect insects and force them to grown and maintain the fungus. With the Cordyceps mutating to take over humans, it would lead to our downfall as a society and force the survivors to live in a broken, dangerous world. Still, the core idea behind The Last of Us is that life goes on, despite all of the hardships put in its way, life will continue.

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Most of you probably know the story of The Last of Us, but in case you don’t, the game opens with players taking on the role of Joel, a single father who is celebrating his birthday with his daughter. As day turns to night, commotion outside wakes Joel and he finds that people are going crazy and attacking one another. Joel grabs his daughter Sarah and tries to find safety, but after getting into a car crash, Joel and Sarah are confronted by a soldier who shoots at them, killing Sarah. The game picks up 20 years later, with Joel now working as a smuggler in a quarantine zone run by a totalitarian government.

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While meeting with a group called the Fireflies, Joel and his partner Tess are tasked with taking a young girl named Ellie to some people in a restricted part of the city. They agree, on the condition that they will receive supplies, but on the way to the drop off, Tess is killed, the Fireflies they were supposed to meet are dead, and Joel learns that Ellie is immune to the Cordyceps virus, meaning she could the key to a cure. Joel reluctantly agrees to take Ellie to a Firefly facility in Colorado. Along the way, Joel and Ellie encounter hordes of infected and, most dangerous of all, other humans who are more vicious and evil than any infected could be.

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Gameplay in The Last of Us is similar to that of Uncharted, though with far less climbing. Players control Joel, most of the time, as he guides Ellie through dilapidated buildings and overgrown forests. Players will often find themselves confronted by enemies and usually have the choice to confront them head on, sneak past them, or stalk them stealthily before brutally murdering them.

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In The Last of Us, the idea of good and bad is entirely subjective. In a commentary on video games, players are asked to think about their justification and reasoning behind killing other people. Often, when playing games, most players murder without thought, as you are the “good guy” and they are the “bad guys”. The Last of Us asks the question, are you really the good guy? Joel is a mass murderer, but is his killing justified because it’s for his and Ellie’s survival? It’s a deep subject that would require far more paragraph’s than I’m willing to commit to, but it is an important part of the game and is one of the reason’s it is considered an all-time great.

After a successful trailer showing at the 2011 Spike VGA’s, a 2012 presentation at E3 gave players a first look at the gameplay and just how brutal and dark The Last of Us was going to be. Pre-release hype was high, and after missing an initial May, 2013 release, the game dropped on June 13th, 2013 to universal acclaim and strong sales. Critics were absolutely floored by how good The Last of Us was, with multiple outlets giving the game a perfect score, calling it one of the best games of its console generation.

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The list of accolades received by The Last of Us is too long to talk about here, so just check out this link to the Wikipedia article on it, it’s very impressive. While it would sometimes lose to Grand Theft Auto V in the Game of the Year category, The Last of Us did pick up that trophy from the D.I.C.E. Awards, the SXSW Gaming Awards, the BAFTA Gaming Awards, and the Game Developers Choice Awards.

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The Last of Us would receive DLC later in 2013 called Left Behind, which tells the story of how Ellie was bit by an infected. Following that, a PS4 remaster would arrive in 2014, followed by a PS5 remake in 2022. A sequel, The Last of Us Part II would arrive in 2020, mired in controversy (more on that in seven years), and would receive a television series adaptation in 2023 on HBO.

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I can’t believe I got this far and didn’t even mention the two actors who provide the voice acting and motion capture for Joel and Ellie, Troy Baker and Ashley Johnson. It’s their performances that really drive the heart and soul of the game’s story. Their performances were highly praised by critics and led to awards for each of them.

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The Last of Us is a modern masterpiece. It is one of the premier video game stories of all-time and shows that video games don’t need to be movies (as we’ll see later in this column), video games are video games. They can tell stories just as powerful as any novel, any television show, and any film. If you’ve somehow made it ten years without playing The Last of Us, please, PLEASE, find time to play it. Yes, it’s brutal, it’s scary, and it’s uncomfortable, but you’ll rarely find another video game that makes you feel the things that The Last of Us will make you feel.

Advance Wars 2: Black Hole Rising (GBA) – Released Jun. 24th, 2003: Wiki Link

advance wars 2

Notable Film Release: Hollywood Homicide – Starring Harrison Ford and Josh Hartnett
*Click here to watch the trailer*
Notable Album Release: Monica – After the Storm
*Click here to listen to the album*

After the success of Advance Wars in 2001, development on a sequel was initated. Nintendo once again went to their development partner, Intelligent Design, and had them create the follow-up, Advance Wars 2: Black Hole Rising.

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While the game featured a continuation of the first game’s story and introduced some new characters, the core gameplay remained unchanged between games. Players still moved units around a grid map, capturing cities, and destroying their opponent’s units. One big change, though, was how players went through the missions. While Advance Wars gave missions in a linear fashion, Black Hole Rising allowed players to partake missions in any order they liked, though only after they unlocked the specific continent where those missions were located.

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Like its predecessor, Advance Wars 2 was only released in the West, with Nintendo opting to not release the game in Japan, though both games would receive ports a few years later. On release, Advance Wars 2 received mostly positive reviews, with critics calling it a “must own” for the Game Boy Advance, and one of the best local multiplayer games on the system. The only major criticism was that the game felt too similar to the first Advance Wars, not doing enough to differentiate itself.

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Playing Advance Wars 2 in its original form is fairly difficult. A Wii U release was the last chance for players to own the game, and is no longer available with the closure of the. A remake did come out on the Switch in April of 2023, and is really the only way to play this game today (aside from emulation). A nice improvement over the first entry, Advance Wars 2 is a great game that you should absolutely give a try.

Battletoads/Double Dragon (NES) – Released Jun. 1993: Wiki Link
Battletoads in Battlemaniacs (SNES) – Released Jun. 1993: Wiki Link
Battletoads in Ragnarok’s World (Game Boy) – Released Jun. 1993: Wiki Link

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Notable Film Release: Jurassic Park – Starring Sam Neill, Laura Dern, Jeff Goldblum, Richard Attenborough, Samuel L. Jackson, Wayne Knight, Joseph Mazzello, and Ariana Richards
*Click here to watch the trailer*
Notable Album Release:  Liz Phair – Exile in Guyville
*Click here to listen to album*

Our notable title from thirty years ago is actually three games, all from the Battletoads series, and all released in June of 1993. Our first game is Battletoads/Double Dragon for the NES. With gameplay nearly identical to the first Battletoads game on NES, Battletoads/Double Dragon is fairly derivative, but that doesn’t take away from the fun.

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Now, why did these two properties crossover and how was the permission given? Who knows, though we can certainly guess. Double Dragon was one of the first brawlers to ever release, and Battletoads was one of the most successful brawlers in the NES library, so why not combine the two? Oh, and publisher Tradewest put out entries from both franchises on the NES, so that might have been a factor as well.

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In any case, regardless of how the crossover happened, it led to one hell of a game. The game was fully developed by Battletoads creator Rare, with little to no input from Double Dragon developer Techno Japan, giving Battletoads/Double Dragon a much stronger Battletoads feel than a Double Dragon one. This includes all of those goofy giant appendages the characters have, as well as their exaggerated expressions when a boss appears.

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Critics were mostly positive towards the game, noting that it was far easier than previous Battletoads and Double Dragon games, and complimented the gameplay and controls. On the flip side, some critics were put off by how easy the game was, lamenting that it wasn’t nearly as challenging as previous entries in both franchises. Ports for the SNES, Genesis, and Game Boy would come out in December of 1993, and a rerelease of the NES game came out in 2022, for the NES. As of today, there is no way to play this game on any modern consoles, a real shame.

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Next we have Battletoads in Battlemaniacs, the first original 16-bit Battletoads game, and can be seen as either the second or third sequel to Battletoads (which depends on your acceptance of the Game Boy Battletoads as canon…very important stuff to consider). Like its predecessors, Battlemaniacs is a side scrolling brawler with players controlling one of two different toads, depending on which port you plug your controller into.

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While the game is considered a sequel, the levels are mostly enhanced remakes of the same ones you’d find in the first Battletoads game, with the idea being that you are trapped in a digital realm where someone has recreated your previous fight; lame. Critics weren’t too jazzed about Battlemaniacs, though reviews were mostly positive. Particular praise was given to the game’s graphics, which were considered some of the best on the SNES at the time. Personally, I find the game to be a bore, and a real chore to play with poor controls and enemies that take forever to kill; hard pass.

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Our final Battletoads entry is the Game Boy title Battletoads in Ragnarok’s World which is just a port of the first NES Battletoads to the Game Boy. If you’re wondering why it had a different name, that’s because Rare had already released a game called Battletoads on the Game Boy, but it was a kinda/sorta sequel with all new levels. Looking back at it now, with Battlemaniacs and Ragnarok both being ports of the NES game, Battletoads/Double Dragon was the only original out of the three, which is probably why it’s the best.

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If you’re wondering why THREE Battletoads games came out in June of 1993, well, it’s because they were really popular. For a brief 2-3 year period, Battletoads was one of the most popular video game franchises on the planet, and one of the most successful TMNT rip-off’s out there. However, by 1994 the franchise was on its last legs and, after the utter failure of a Battletoads arcade game, the franchise was put on ice for 26 years, with Rare focusing the rest of the 1990’s working on titles for Nintendo, like Donkey Kong Country, Killer Instinct, and Banjo-Kazooie. If you’re going to play any of these, make it Battletoads/Double Dragon, feel free to skip the other two.

Dragon’s Lair (Arcade) – Released Jun. 19th, 1983: Wiki Link

Dragon's Lair

Notable Film Release: Superman III – Starring Christopher Reeve, Richard Pryor, Robert Vaughn, and Annette O’Toole
*Click here to watch the trailer*
Notable Album Release: Talking Heads – Speaking in Tongues
*Click here to listen to album*

While we find ourselves in a kind of video game adaptation renaissance with shows like The Last of Us and films like The Super Mario Bros. movie, it felt like, for a few decades, that the video game industry was trying, often unsuccessfully, to make the video games movies themselves, as an interactive stories. One of the first to see this idea become a reality was the 1983 arcade game Dragon’s Lair.

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Developed by a company called Advanced Microcomputer Systems (fun name!), Dragon’s Lair was a unique gaming experience for 1983, in that the entire thing was made up of high quality, hand drawn animation, and played out like a short film. Your typical video game in 1983 was not very sophisticated, graphics wise, and were typically made up of pixel sprites that only had a limited amount of animation and detail. With Dragon’s Lair, the developers could take movie quality animation and turn it into a video game, giving the player striking visuals, though it had drawbacks.

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To get these high quality images, Dragon’s Lair was placed on a LaserDisc, a high storage disc created by Philips, MCA, and Pioneer, and was intended to be the new standard in home entertainment. While the image and sound quality were exceptional, the actual gameplay of Dragon’s Lair was fairly unsophisticated. While games like Pac-Man and Donkey Kong might have looked and sounded primitive, their game play and controls were phenomenal, giving players unprecedented control over the characters. In Dragon’s Lair, players were not given much freedom, if any, in where protagonist Dirk the Daring would go.

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In Dragon’s Lair, players watch a short animated film and, when prompted, must push the joystick in a particular direction or hit a button. If successful, the film continues and plays the next scene. If unsuccessful, the film plays a bad scene, depicting Dirk being killed. The LaserDisc technology was what allowed for this quick loading of scenes, but it took a heavy toll on the machine that played the disc. In 1983, the laser in most LaserDisc players had a life span of about 650 hours before needing to be replaced. This, of course, assumed you were watching a film, in which the laser rarely moves back and forth. With Dragon’s Lair, the laser was constantly having to go to different scenes on the disc, depending on player choices, causing the laser to fail more quickly.

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Eventually, more advanced lasers would be installed, but the mechanism that moved the laser would fail just as often, meaning that Dragon’s Lair cabinets were often broken and in need of repair. However, this didn’t stop the game from being a huge success in arcades, and much of that success was attributed to the animation team who created the game’s scenes, Don Bluth Productions.

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Having gained notoriety in the 1970’s as one of Disney’s premier animators, Don Bluth, along with nine other animators, left Disney in 1979 to start their own company. Their first film, The Secret of NIMH, was a critical success but only a modest theatrical hit. After failing to gain traction with a previous game, The Secrets of the Lost Woods, producer Rick Dyer from Advanced Microcomputer Systems approached Bluth after viewing NIMH. Dyer felt that with Bluth’s imagination and filmmaking skills, their new video game concept could work. The team at Bluth Productions got to work and cranked the game out in about a year, doing all of the voice acting in-house to save time and money.

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Pre-release hype was through the roof, with the promise of a film quality video game making huge waves across the country, getting Dragon’s Lair featured in mainstream news shows and publications. Dragon’s Lair was a massive financial success in arcades, being the third highest grossing game in 1983, behind Ms. Pac-Man and Pole Position. This success would be short lived, however, as arcade owners quickly became tired of how often the machine broke down.

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By 1984, the video game industry was in a tailspin, and a follow-up game, Space Ace, was a massive financial failure for Advanced Microcomputer Systems which, in turn, killed the Dragon’s Lair sequel (though it would finally release in 1991). Several home ports would come out over the years, though all paled in comparison to the arcade game, with even straight ports, like the one for Sega CD, looking and sounding terrible in comparison to the arcade game. Eventually, really good ports would come out, though in an unlikely format, on DVD. Dragon’s Lair is available today on Blu-Ray, of course, but also on mobile devices, PC, PS4, Switch, and Xbox, so give it a look. At least you know it won’t be broken.

Andy Tuttle
Andy Tuttle

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