Happy Thanksgiving, everyone! As players, we’ve got a lot to be thankful for this year, being served a massive heaping of outstanding, all-time great video games. 2023 really has been one for the ages, no doubt. I am, however, incredibly grateful that this week’s slate of new releases is so sparse! I get time for family and a little bit of a break before the big end-of-year articles, and I also get to catch up a little bit on my backlog.
I hope that you have a wonderful holiday this week. Stay safe, stay full, and stay positive!
Jurassic Park Classic Games Collection (PC/Switch) – Releases Nov. 22nd
Developed by: Limited Run Games
Published by: Limited Run Games
Worldless (PC/PS4/PS5/Switch/Xbox One/Series X|S) – Releases Nov. 21st
Developed by: Noname Studios
Published by: Coatsink/Thunderful
Valfaris: Mecha Therion (PC) – Releases Nov. 21st
Developed by: Steel Mantis
Published by: Big Sugar/East2West Games
Notable Releases from 10, 20, and 30 years ago:
You didn’t think I was going to forget the notable releases, did you? Hell. No. Let’s talk about the games you were feverishly trying to secure on Black Friday, wrestling it out of the arms of a father who was just trying to make his kids happy on Christmas. You know what, Bill? Fuck you, I need this Xbox One for my college dorm room, piece of shit. Oh, and Happy Holidays.
Last week we talked about Sony’s entry in the Eighth Generation of consoles, the PlayStation 4, and now we’re here to discuss Microsoft’s entry, the Xbox One. While Microsoft had done incredibly well in the Seventh Generation with the Xbox 360, they stumbled out of the gate almost immediately during their 2013 E3 press conference, with completely misguided attempts at turning the next Xbox into a family friendly, casual entertainment hub. Instead of focusing on the games, Microsoft’s marketing teams touted their new console’s ability to function as a cable box and play live television. There was a major push to use this new console as a way to stream digital movies by using the voice commands on the MANDATORY Kinect that came bundled with every console and, oh yeah, your new Xbox would require a 24 hour a day internet connection to function.
Just what did Microsoft decide to call their new console? Xbox 720? Xbox 2? Nope, Xbox One, because, you know, it was your all in ONE entertainment box. It played games, movies, music, streaming apps, live TV, it was supposed to revolutionize the way you consumed entertainment by combining multiple devices into one console. Guess what? No one cared. While the Kinect for Xbox 360 was a commercial success, it alienated the hardcore gaming public in North America. These gamers were used to playing things like Gears of War, Grand Theft Auto, and Call of Duty, none of which were enhanced by the Kinect. Whatever casual sector of the gaming market the Kinect appealed to in 2010, they were just not ready to move onto a new gaming console after three years.
In those three years, the hardcore gamer in North America, feeling cast aside by Microsoft’s new casual gaming push, found their way over to Sony’s PlayStation 3 with groundbreaking exclusives like The Last of Us, and the company began to position itself as THE place for gaming. When rumors began to circulate at E3 that the Xbox One would not allow you to swap game discs with your friends, essentially marrying a single disc to a single console for life, Sony made a tongue-in-cheek video promoting players ability to swap games with their friends. Oh, and the PS4 was also $100 cheaper than the Xbox One.
Well, as you might have expected, Microsoft went back on just about every decision they made in the Xbox One’s E3 presentation. The always-online requirement; gone. The mandatory use of the Kinect; gone. The restriction on trading/selling/loaning out your physical games; gone. Don Mattrick, the President of Microsoft’s Interactive Entertainment Business; gone. The launch of the Xbox One couldn’t have been a bigger disaster. All of that market share in North America that the Xbox 360 held was lost almost instantaneously.
All this ink and we still haven’t talked about the launch titles, but why would we? They were either the exact same third party titles that the PS4 got (Assassin’s Creed IV, Battlefield 4, Call of Duty: Ghosts) or laughably bad Kinect titles like Fighter Within. As far as exclusives, the big first party launch game was Forza Motorsport 5, which was received positively, but not seen as anything groundbreaking. Another big exclusive was Crytek’s Ryse: Son of Rome, a third person action game that was kind of like an FMV mixed with a brawler, mixed with a QTE game, it was okay. The most high profile exclusive, however, was Capcom’s Dead Rising 3, an Xbox One console exclusive that continued the story of the popular franchise, though it was taken in a much more serious direction than its predecessors. This change in tone alienated previous fans and the game did not move many Xbox One units, though it may have helped out a bit in Japan, where the Xbox One sold around 25k units in the first week; woo!
With Don Mattrick gone, the Xbox division was put in the hands of Phil Spencer, the former VP of Microsoft Studios. His dedication and passion for games was the breath of fresh air that the Xbox needed and, with his direction, helped the console regain some relevancy with the removal (and discontinuation) of the Kinect, which lowered the base console’s price, and the introduction of backwards compatibility. This would grow the Xbox One’s small library, and let players revisit classic titles with upscaled graphics.
However, Spencer’s biggest accomplishment was the creation of the Xbox Game Pass, a Netflix style subscription service that would allow players to download select games and play them without restriction, as long as the title was part of the service. This would also lead to a developer buying frenzy, with Microsoft acquiring Mojang, Bethesda, Double Fine, Ninja Theory, and others, with the most recent acquisition being Activision/Blizzard/King.
While Microsoft continues to trail behind Sony and Nintendo in this Ninth Generation of consoles, they are positioning themselves to be a top competitor in the future. Their new console, the Xbox Series X|S, is already outselling the Xbox One, and Game Pass has already spawned an imitation from Sony and, to a certain extent, Nintendo, who offer free classic games to subscribers. The Xbox One launch will probably go down in video game history as one of the biggest blunders of all time, but as with other past failures (like the Sega Dreamcast), there are hints of a future to come. Perhaps the ol’ XBone was just ahead of its time. We’ll see.
That was a lot of talk about the Xbox One, so I’m going to quickly get us through these next two games. First we have 2003’s Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time, a modern update for the classic Ubisoft series. Designed by series creator Jordan Mechner, and directed by Patrice Désilets (future creator of Assassin’s Creed), Sands of Time was a major critical and commercial success, being hailed by critics as not just one of the best games of the year, but one of the best of all time. Initially, Sands of Time had to jockey for position with another Ubisoft title, Beyond Good & Evil, splitting the company’s marketing resources in two. Over time, however, it became clear that Sands of Time was the more successful game and Ubisoft focused all its marketing efforts towards it, helping it to reach major financial success.
Sands of Time would go on to became a big, new franchise for Ubisoft, spawning multiple sequels over the next decade, and being the inspiration for another massive franchise, Assassin’s Creed. A remake for modern consoles was announced in 2020 but has been delayed multiple times since then. Your best chance of playing the game (through legal means) is on PC through Steam or GOG, and critics were not wrong, this game is a masterpiece. Check it out!
Our title from 1993 is the LucasArts PC game Star Wars: Rebel Assault. Despite being a huge commercial success when it released, Rebel Assault was not such a hit with critics. Despite having phenomenal graphics for the time, and a stunning soundtrack thanks to the CD-ROM it was published on, Rebel Assault had an identity problem. The game was an odd mixture of flight sim and third person action, with players switching styles every few levels. The enemy AI was predictable, and the story was near incomprehensible to anyone who had not seen, or was not very familiar, with the plot of the original film trilogy.
Still, this was a world that had yet to suffer through the Star Wars prequel films, and the property was, at the time, just one of those old sci-fi franchises that a bunch of nerds liked. It hadn’t reached the pinnacle of its financial success yet, or oversaturated the market, it was for niche audiences, and Rebel Assault was as close as players had gotten to seeing their favorite movies realized in video game form, yet. Like Sands of Time, your best chance of playing Rebel Assault today is through Steam or GOG, though I wouldn’t really recommend it. There are much, much better Star Wars games to check out.
Moving quickly to notable films, 2013 was the year we all “let it go” and watched Frozen 12 times in theatres with every child that we knew, and likely led to many, MANY, toys under the Christmas tree that year. Moving to a different kind of Christmas film, 2003 saw the release of Terry Zwigoff’s Bad Santa, starring Billy Bob Thornton as a foul mouthed, drunken mall Santa who is really a criminal in disguise. In 2003 I was the perfect target audience for this film and, like tweens in 2013 who saw Frozen a bunch of times, I must have watched Bad Santa 4 or 5 times in theatres before it finally left, and then dozens of times afterwards on DVD and cable (thank you Comedy Central).
Our 1993 film in the Robin Williams classic Mrs. Doubtfire which, to my surprise, was not the number one film at the box office when it debuted. It was in fifth place, losing to another debuting family film, Addams Family Values (we can talk more about that next week), as well holdover films The Three Musketeers, Carlito’s Way, and My Life. I’m not sure why audiences didn’t flock to Mrs. Doubtfire right away. Maybe Addams Family was more well known, maybe people didn’t recognize Williams in all that makeup, maybe the cross dressing didn’t play well in the fly-over states, whatever it was, it got beat, bad. However, Mrs. Doubtfire would have the last laugh, eventually becoming the second highest grossing film of 1993 (after Jurassic Park), having major success on home video, and earning two Golden Globes, for Best Picture – Comedy/Musical, and Best Actor – Comedy/Musical.
I’m not super excited about our notable albums, but 2013’s Midnight Memories from One Direction was probably the perfect album to come out the week that Frozen hit theatres, just really giving tween girls Thanksgiving to remember. 2003 didn’t really have much going on, though if you’re a fan of video games then you are probably familiar with singer/songwriter Jonathan Coulton, he was the guy behind the Portal song about the cake, “Still Alive”. His debut album, Smoking Monkey, caught the attention of many early era podcasters, particularly Adam Curry from Daily Source Code, who featured many of Coulton’s songs on his show.
1993’s notable album is probably the most culturally significant of the three, Snoop Doggy Dog’s debut Doggstyle. Continuing the run of highly successful and influential hip-hop albums to come out in the back half of 1993, with his song “Gin and Juice” receiving heavy airplay over the radio and on MTV, solidifying the West Coast “sound”, with smooth, synth heavy, funk inspired beats and a soft, melodic vocal delivery. It really is amazing seeing all of these major hip-hop albums appear in such a short amount of time. Fans of the genre were in the middle of a golden age, and popular culture was about to change in drastic ways. As someone who was a tween himself in 1993, these were highly formative years for me, and I don’t think I’d be the kind of person I am today without having these hip-hop albums as my soundtrack.
Xbox One – Released Nov. 22nd, 2013: Wiki Link
Notable Film Release: Frozen – Starring Kristen Bell, Idina Menzel, Jonathan Groff, Josh Gad, and Santino Fontana
*Click here to watch the trailer*
Notable Album Release: One Direction – Midnight Memories
*Click here to listen to the album*
Prince of Persia: Sands of Time (PS2) – Released Nov. 10th, 2003: Wiki Link
Notable Film Release: Bad Santa – Starring Billy Bob Thornton, Tony Cox, Lauren Graham, Brett Kelly, Lauren Tom, John Ritter, and Bernie Mac
*Click here to watch the trailer*
Notable Album Release: Jonathan Coulton – Smoking Monkey
*Click here to listen to the album*
Star Wars: Rebel Assault (PC) – Released Nov. 25th, 1993: Wiki Link