All-New Saturday Summaries 2017-08-12

Welcome, everyone, to the newest edition of Saturday Summaries. It's still Summer, but this August has been unexpectedly busy all the same - this following week sees the release of Nidhogg 2, Agents of Mayhem, the Switch versions of the first two Jackbox Party Packs, the PS4 versions of Undertale, N++ and Zero Time Dilemma (really looking forward to finally playing the latter of those) and I guess a thing with Sonic in it. Seems like a good week for multiplayer fans at least, and I think Nintendo is figuring out that doubling down on local multiplayer and party games is the way they're going to turn the Switch into a success. What better way to have your advertising done for you than by publishing games that prompt Switch owners to carry their portable consoles over to friends' houses and let them take part in a quick Splatoon Turf War or Mushroom Cup Grand Prix? Of course, the single-player Super Mario Odyssey and Xenoblade 2 are what currently have me salivating, but it seems Nintendo's found their angle for drawing in the "normies" this time around.

50
50 "NES-sized games" is an impressive feat, if they can pull it off. It'll make for a really long Quick Look, I can guess that much.

Anyway, playing Cosmic Star Heroine, and many other Indie throwbacks of late, has me contemplating the divergent evolution of video game design again. The idea that you could walk back a genre's evolution a few generations and then try moving it forward in a different direction. If the SNES had been around for a decade longer, would we be seeing games that continue to innovate from within those 16-bit limitations, like the many Indie homages to that era? How would games continue to evolve design-wise if the technological progress of the hardware was stymied? Most homages aren't necessarily trying to posit that hypothetical scenario; they're really just built that way because their developers were fond of games from that time, not to mention how formative they were for them. In a lot of cases, these games - despite looking 16-bit - have more going on under the hood than the SNES or Mega Drive would be able to handle. Cosmic Star Heroine's definitely pushing their luck with their CD-quality music and sharp visuals for cutscenes (though you could perhaps argue it's a Sega Saturn/PlayStation era game - they still produced a lot of incredible 2D sprite-based games in that time with redbook audio, along with the comparatively poorly-aged early polygonal efforts).

That's also what's getting me excited for Mossmouth's newly announced UFO 50 game. I played a game called Retro Game Crunch not too long ago (and the first GCCX game, Retro Game Challenge, a few years before that) that played around with the idea of "hey, what if we just invent a game developer that operated during this period who were ahead of the curve, essentially knowing all we know now in this modern era of game design - what would their games look like?". It's some nerdy "what if?" speculation business for Indie developers to indulge in, and I'd love to see what results of that experiment. I follow retro games because there's a lot they can still teach us; not just about where modern games and their mechanics came from, but the various innovations that were left behind by an industry that missed iterating on them when they had the chance. Indie throwbacks don't just exist to serve as a quick "hey, remember when games used to look like this?" nostalgia grab, but to backtrack a few generations and try out those roads not taken (which might explain why so many of these throwbacks are spacewhippers, come to think of it).

Anyway, this is getting me inspired for a new retro game series to follow The Top Shelf after it's finally complete. For now, let's check in on that and everything else I've written this week:

  • The Top Shelf this week looked at the 2002 multiplatform RPG The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, a title so long that it would mess up the tables on my The Top Shelf repository blog if I hadn't abbreviated it. Speaking of abbreviated, this is one of the shortest full retail RPGs I think I've ever played, which makes it all the more ironic considering it's based off a damn tome of a novel. Everyone's familiar enough with The Lord of the Rings these days due to the Peter Jackson movies, so it's a little refreshing that we have this single LOTR game released during the PS2 generation and later that's not beholden to those movies and their visual design at all. It gives Fellowship something of its own personality, even if it's not a particularly great game by any standard metric for game critique. It's definitely more than a little awkward to play in this day and age, and its ridiculously tough opening chapters aren't worth suffering through for the generic hack and slash slog the rest of the game becomes. Still, it was an interesting game to dip back into. I hope I see more like it as I continue to delve into this PS2 backlog.
  • The Indie Game of the Week this time was the aforementioned Cosmic Star Heroine, the newest RPG from Zeboyd Games. It'd be easy to dismiss Zeboyd Games's output as generic RPG Maker fodder, but for two things: the presentation of their games always gets a lot more attention than you might anticipate if you've only seen in-game screenshots, and the in-depth combat system is so perfectly and deliberately tuned for the (mostly) finite number of encounters the game presents. Each fight is its own well-considered self-contained challenge, rather than just one battle in a sea of inessential random encounters. With each new enemy comes new tactics to consider, new equipment or abilities gained on level up changes how you approach the battles to come, and the game keeps mixing things up in that manner for the entirety of the game's relatively short run. These are games that are extremely lean, with little time for filler side-quests or extraneous battling. That also means it doesn't really pause for breath too often, and Cosmic Star Heroine in particular seems to have eschewed the parody angle of Zeboyd's earlier games for an overly sincere Phantasy Star homage. Still, there's an impressive amount of consideration and production work here, and it's what prompted me to consider whether or not a game as elaborately and meticulously designed as this one could actually exist in the era it throws back to. Probably? But I think you'd probably need like two or three interim Chrono Trigger sequels to get there. (Also? It has rad music!)

[No Tales of Zestiria update this time. To be honest, I hardly got to play any of it this week: I've spent a lot of that free time on Giant Bomb content, Will Smith and Waypoint's PUBG streams, and finishing the two games above. I'd hate if it took me two whole months to beat Zestiria, just from the stance of knowing how many smaller games I could've completed in that time, but it's starting to look like it's heading that way. Still, saves my wallet some heartache if I can make these RPGs last, especially since I just dropped some moolah to back this HG101 book on Japanese video game obscurities - which, if you've read my frequent Wiki Project updates, you know is a topic I have some interest in. If I can just get to the end of this year with something still left in my account, I'll be happy.]

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