By Mento 0 Comments
Bit of a late entry here, I was still rushing to complete the Bucketlog game for the first Tuesday of September, and then my priorities switched to that week's Indie Game of the Week, but now I've carved out a bit of time to do the full rundown on how my August looked. From a more general industry perspective August felt like everyone was eager to put the summer slump behind them and start releasing games again: the final week was super busy in a manner most weeks during summer rarely are, and now September's arrived it doesn't seem like there's going to be a whole lot of downtime in the near future. None of that really affects me, since I'm about six months behind the zeitgeist at the best of times, but it will be more interesting as someone who regularly consumes Giant Bomb content: more games discussed on the podcasts, more Quick Looks, more ideas for future features, etc., etc.
Indie Games of the Month
August comprised the 131-135 entries of Indie Game of the Week, outlined below:
Rainbow Moon (IGotW 131) is an isometric SRPG that feels like a cross between Divine Divinity, the first of the Divinity series that was sort of a Diablo with quests and map exploration, and the endlessness of the Disgaea franchise. Though they're a tactical grid-based affair, Rainbow Moon's battles move faster than you'd expect, which is good because there's so damn many of them. The game is enormous, and it easily ate up the first half of this month for me as I grabbed the rest of its trophies pursuing the sunkest of sunk cost fallacies. Like gacha games and MMOs, it might almost be the type of game I'd warn against playing irrespective (or perhaps because of) its qualities, just because it happened to mercilessly devour so much of this August's game playing time. I might have to do a better job of weening myself off these enormous RPGs, though I suppose I can't fault its value for money.
Chuchel (IGotW 132) is an example of how, after covering Indie games for well over six or seven years now, there are certain creature comfort franchises I find my way back to eventually. One of those familiar haunts are the many games of Czech developers Amanita Design, who have cornered the market on point-and-click whimsy: the sort of game where you solve puzzles by trial and error exploration of the space, eventually deducing the correct series of hotspots to solve the immediate puzzle but enjoying the process the whole way due to the unexpected surprises that the dead-ends lead you to. Machinarium was the closest this developer got to a more traditional point-and-click narrative, but as great as that game was they feel more in their element when there's just a giant screen of weird nonsense to click on to see what happens. Chuchel's a little more structured, presented as a group of animated vignettes that feel more like interactive cartoon shorts than "levels", but its quickfire succession of goofs and silliness was a tonic to my depressed old man soul.
Subnautica (IGotW 133) is an underwater exploration/survival game that I wished I could've liked more, but the lack (or very slow piecemeal apportioning) of direction and constant cycle of grinding and farming required to keep your avatar alive meant soul-crushing tedium set in long before I was ready to start solving the game's more elusive mysteries. Originally, the goal is to simply stay alive and find fellow survivors of a massive colony ship crash on an unknown ocean planet, before you eventually start piecing together what happened and conceive a more likely plan of escape. Alien structures, unknown contagions, and the ever-enigmatic deeper trenches of this alien planet are there to be explored and understood at the player's own pace, but you can never ever lose sight of the short-term goals of keeping safe, procuring more food and water, and maintaining and rebuilding life-saving equipment by stockpiling the minerals you'll need. The grind eventually became too much and I quit, but for the more patient player (or the ones sensible enough to turn hunger/thirst off) I could see Subnautica being the type of slow-burn amphibious adventure game like Everblue or Endless Ocean that is sorely missed by the would-be aquanauts of the world.
The Room Three (IGotW 134) is the third in a series of tactile puzzle-adventure games first released on mobile devices, where the goal is to take in a puzzle box filled with secret panels and mystery switches and slowly take it apart piece by piece until you have what you need to move on to the next intricate tchotchke. The franchise started with these objects in the middle of the titular room, but eventually started incorporating more of the room itself, becoming more like those escape room games where you'd regularly complete one puzzle to find a component you'd need for a puzzle on the opposite side of the same area. Unfortunately, I had a miserable time with The Room Three because it wasn't optimized for lesser PCs like my own, which produced a lot of egregious bugs and glitches that made solving the puzzles more of a hurdle than they should've been. It comes to something when most modern phones have better 3D graphics support than my laptop. I wasn't in a position to recommend it as a result, though I'm sure most players won't ever see the issues I did and have a grand old time opening secret drawers and twisting dials to their heart's content. Man, I really need to upgrade...
Heroes of the Monkey Tavern (IGotW 135) was pitched to me as "Grimrock Lite" and it's certainly that. If Grimrock didn't exist and you were told about an Indie take on those old first-person real-time dungeon crawlers like Lands of Lore and Eye of the Beholder, you'd expect something like HotMT: it's very streamlined, which is a diplomatic way of saying it doesn't have much in the way of varied content or mechanics and instead seeks to hone in on what matters most and excise the time- and resources-intensive parts which can more or less be safely cut. It gets the claustrophobic and nyctophobic atmosphere right (a crucial component to any first-person dungeon crawler), the combat is fast and tense especially on the hardest difficulty setting, and it has a few devious puzzles and traps up its sleeves. There's basically no inventory besides for equipment, and you can toss most of that stuff once you find a better version as there's no economy to worry about. No hunger or thirst either (which I might've appreciated a little bit more than usual after Subnautica) and there's only two types of key in the game and you don't hold onto them long. Very barebones, but a few good level design ideas and a solid enough foundation: the kind of project that is acceptable for a first outing because there's the implicit promise that later games can build on it. It's just a shame Grimrock had to eat their lunch, as it's a series that's better and bigger in every way that matters. Manage your expectations and I think you'll enjoy this for the short time it lasts.
Hey Everybody, It's the Tuesday Slot
It's been six months, so I got back to one of the more personally rewarding features I frequently revisit: the Wiki Project. Getting our site's wiki in order while simultaneously researching older games from my heyday is both elucidating and therapeutic in a way surrounding oneself with nostalgia often is, but with the Sega Genesis/Mega Drive in particular it feels like filling in a gap that I'd stubbornly left open due to my loyalty to the Super Nintendo Entertainment System (which was the first and longest-running of my numerous Wiki Project subjects).
The early years of the Sega Mega Drive revealed a lot to me: how it first started as a 16-bit system uniquely capable of running Sega's state-of-the-art arcade tech in a passable capacity, before using that distinctive tech to carve out a niche with third-party developers of arcade games and computer games (since the Mega Drive used the popular Motorola 68000 microprocessor shared by many big home computer models), and then the much-publicized manner in which it cleverly sold itself overseas as the more risque and mature (by a teenager's definition of mature, at least) option between itself and Nintendo, embracing western developers and those looking for a more perfect home arcade experience (also making the point that it was the affordable choice too once the ludicrously pricey Neo Geo turned up).
These three episodes of the Mega Archive cover the entire third quarter (July-September) of 1991, during the system's sudden boom in popularity following the June release of Sonic the Hedgehog. Despite Sonic's transformative debut, it's more business as usual for the system: shoot 'em ups, EA sports games, arcade conversions from usual suspects Taito and Tengen, more of the smaller budget Game Toshokan/Sega Meganet online games, as well as a few surprises and developer debuts from the likes of Data East, Infogrames, Technopop, Probe, and Sega affiliate CRI (later CRI Middleware, then simply CRIWare). A few highlights from the forty-five games covered above: Streets of Rage, Marvel Land, NHL Hockey, OutRun, Road Rash, El Viento, Rent A Hero, Galaxy Force II, and Mercs.
Though there's plenty of rose-tinted nostalgia for the 16-bit consoles, I have a healthy appreciation for more recent jank also. The Xbox 360 generation was a time when I had an unparalleled level of access to the biggest games released, though only when the local Blockbuster Video actually had them in stock. As such, in those weeks when the release schedule was on the drier side or everything had been checked out before I got there, I'd experiment with a lot of "B-Games" (as this site likes to call them) like the first Two Worlds. Finally trying out its sequel for the first time felt like honoring a promise I made over a decade ago, when I decided that despite Two Worlds's many flaws - terrible (but funny) voice acting, graphical issues, and an overall sense of the developers' ambition far outstripping ability - I'd make an effort to follow the series to see how and if it would improve over time.
Two Worlds II is certainly more competent than the first. It almost feels slightly less entertaining as a result, like I'm laughing with it to a lesser amount than I was laughing at it before, but at the same time it made me happy that its developers were able to realize their hopes and dreams better the second time around. It still retains the few strengths of the original - I enjoyed its variance in world design, especially when it visited more oriental-themed architecture and costumes for some of the late-game cities - while improving the combat system (though it takes a while to get good) and tossing in no shortage of clever quality-of-life touches. For a game made on a budget in 2010, it didn't feel as dated as I might've anticipated, and I overall had a fine time revisting a period when RPGs - while far from stable and not particularly attractive - didn't hurt for ideas or a lack of heart. I don't think my affection for janky European RPGs is ever likely to abate if this playthrough was any indication.
The Games of August
Dragon Quest Builders
The release of Dragon Quest Builders 2 earlier this summer awakened a burning desire to finally play the original, which I'd bought at some point late last year. (I have this real unfortunate habit of buying games in the middle of playing through something else. My justification is the same as for why it's a bad idea to go grocery shopping on an empty stomach: you have better judgement when you're not as desperate. This however means that I finish whatever it was I was playing and then forget I bought something new to replace it, moving right along to something else in my shame pile.) At any rate, I'm in this weird situation where I think I enjoy Dragon Quest spin-offs more than the core games: I really enjoyed Dragon Quest Heroes despite it being a Musou game; Dragon Quest Heroes: Rocket Slime is one of my all-time favorite portable games; Dragon Quest Swords was more fun than I expected, waving a WiiMote around to slay slimes; the Torneko Taloon Mystery Dungeon games are some of the more palatable roguelikes I've played; and I'm still salty that Square Enix didn't think to localize Theatrhythm Dragon Quest, as I loved the Theatrhythm Final Fantasy games (especially Curtain Call).
Dragon Quest Builders is, of course, the Dragon Quest franchise approaching a Minecraft format, with an oddly cuboid version of Alefgard in a post-apocalyptic scenario where the Dragonlord - after taking over the world due to the unsuccessful adventures of the original Dragon Quest hero - has not only turned this world into a hostile, inhospitable, monster-infested nightmare but has also stripped the creativity, ingenuity, and teamwork from the human race: their chief strengths as a species. It's up to the player, as a mythical "builder" singularly able to create objects and furnishings from raw components, to rebuild civilization and take the fight to the complacent Dragonlord. Notably, because the main character is a builder, they don't gain in experience after defeating monsters and completing quests: that's apparently something unique to those designated as heroes in the Dragon Quest universe.
The game is known, perhaps notorious even, for the way it segments the game into multiple discrete chapters or campaigns. In-between these campaigns, the player loses all their gear, items, HP upgrades, and even crafting recipes, barring a few crucial mainstays like crafting stations and a "colossal coffer" to store all the items they've found while bashing monsters and digging up blocks. They essentially start from scratch each time. The obvious downside to this is not only losing your carefully planned and built towns, but having none of the items or tools to rebuild the next location up quickly: you're back to hitting monsters with sticks and using mounds of dirt as walls for a while. On the other hand, the game uses the opportunity to establish new rules and architectural objectives with each of the settings, as well as new recipe combinations that take advantage of the local terrain's materials. Progression is still very similar each time: you complete some early goals with limited materials, find a teleporter to a new location that would've been impossible to walk to, find new materials there to complete more challenging building objectives as well as fight tougher monsters, and then eventually develop a plan for fighting the region's boss which becomes this massive fight where the town itself becomes collateral damage if you mess up.
I will admit that the constant starting over has worn out my patience a little: I took a break from the game once the third region opened up, which promises more complications by having the player build up two towns simultaneously, but I do still intend to go back and finish it. My only real irritation is that the trophies/challenges for each region also includes a time limit, which is near impossible to meet unless you know exactly what you're doing and everything you'll need to farm in order to complete the objectives your townspeople set you, and then makes these time limits even further down to the wire with how so much of progress is contingent on waiting: the second region, which has you curing sick wanderers before they'll join your settlement, requires that they sleep off every stage of their illness once you've given them what they request for recovery which is another day/night cycle each at least. I want to get to the game's end to mess around with the Terra Incognita mode, which is more like real Minecraft where there's no goals and endless resources with which to build whatever structures you want, but I'll probably be so done with the game at that point that I'll only spend a few minutes in it to slake my curiosity. I'm hoping that when I eventually get around to Dragon Quest Builders 2 it'll have addressed these shortcomings; I'm trying not to learn too much about it until I've beaten the first, given the inevitable comparisons its reviews will make to it.
EDIT: Quick correction, just for my own peace of mind more than anything, but the Kol & Galenholm scenario of DQB doesn't actually involve building two towns despite the double-barreled name. It does involve mechanisms, though, like minecart rails and switches. Didn't get to use them much here, but they seem like they'd be fun to mess around with in the Terra Incognita mode.
I'm going to go bullet-point style again, as I continued to watch all manner of strange shows and movies this month. Not as much as I'd like, since I was busy plugging away at Rainbow Moon and Dragon Quest Builders, but I took in some wholesome anime and a few movies on the ol' streaming service I'd been itching to see.
The Boys (Season 1)
Amazon's tonic for those who have grown enervated by superhero fiction, The Boys is an adaptation of Garth Ennis's "when superheroes go bad", taking a sort of alternate route from Mark Waid's Irredeemable by having an entire Justice League filled with officious, corrupted, arrogant, superpowered jerks backed by a powerful corporation that frequently has to work PR damage control for whatever messed up scandals they've just caused. One such instance involves the accidental disintegration of Hughie Campbell's girlfriend Robin, that eventually has him join a small band of reluctant "supe" slayers, working as a covert ragtag unit of specialists to take down what they consider the most dangerous criminals in the world. It's a fun show, though very dark in a way that isn't always played for laughs, and it did the unusual streaming service thing (it's available exclusive to Amazon Prime, which might've been the alternative name of the Wonder Woman ersatz Queen Maeve in another universe) of setting up a cliffhanger that promises an even crazier season to come. The perfomances are great, the visuals aren't bad, it's severely messed up in some entertaining ways, and though it's not the most sophisticated show on air - or even the most sophisticated superhero show - I enjoyed it quite a bit. It might've helped that I didn't read the comics, as I hear they're even darker and I can imagine some fans being let down that it didn't go as bleak as it could've.
Monthly Girls' Nozaki-kun (Season 1)
I've been more down than usual towards the end of August - it's not been a banner few weeks for those of us with mental health issues - so I took in some paper-thin romcom anime antics for something light and bouncy to cheer myself up. Monthly Girls' Nozaki-kun, or Gekkan Shoujo Nozaki-kun, is an anime that internet personality and anime expert ProZD propped up as a frequently hilarious "misunderstandings" type of romcom, the type where one or both protagonists are oblivious to the other's feelings to the point of possible brain damage, and after watching the first and only season I might have to agree. It's a bit generic in its themes and situations, and it does that self-obsessive thing about being a manga about creating manga, but its comedy is predicated on a series of bait-and-switches and surprising reveals and manages to keep producing new twists along those lines for its entire run somehow, which is impressive enough before you consider it's really funny at it also. It's for this reason that I'm semi-reluctant to say much more about it beyond that I enjoyed it as some light entertainment and hope they eventually make a second season happen (the first season was released in 2016, so it's looking less and less likely).
Hi Score Girl (Season 1)
Similarly, Hi Score Girl is a combination of the above oblivious highschool crush comedy format with the jokey Let's Play show GameCenter CX in the way it celebrates and discusses the appeal and mechanics of specific video games of the 1990s. A useless student, Haruo, is dedicated to the one thing in his life he enjoys and displays some skill with: video games, in particular arcade fighters like Street Fighter II, King of Fighters, and Darkstalkers. His confidence is brought down a peg or two when he gets roundly thrashed by a female student from his own class in elementary school: the completely mute and mostly expressionless rich girl Akira Ono, who only communicates through gestures and violence. The first season of the show has a few time skips, mostly because it took a while before the arcade fighting scene built up to its late-90s peak, giving the show more opportunities to show off different generations of games as Haruo and Akira grow up into highschoolers, becoming separated for a few years due to Akira's obligations to her powerful family. It's a bittersweet show, and a slightly unlikely one when a way better (but still doomed to heartbreak) love interest shows up for Haruo, that undermines its more tender moments with obnoxious mid-episode advertisements for Square Enix products (which helped bankroll both the show and the original manga) as well as ads for other high-profile nostalgic releases like Super Bomberman R and the Neo Geo Mini. Apropos to have these characters gush all over them, I guess. Curious art style also; it reminded me a lot of Gitaroo Man, of all things.
Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (2018)
Spider-Man was on a hot streak in 2018, between the excellent open-world game from Insomniac and this gloriously animated take on multiple Spider-people coming together to stop a reality-breaking device Kingpin created for vaguely sympathetic reasons. It follows Miles Morales, Parker's young protégé from the game (and, of course, the hero of many Spider-Man comics prior to that) as he meets and subsequently watches his universe's Peter Parker die trying to save the city, and decides to take up the mantle with his own newly acquired and slightly different spider-powers. It handles the usual tragic origin story, thankfully switching from poor Uncle Ben, has a few fun twists on classic Spider-Man villains like Doctor Octopus, and has a great message about how it could be anyone behind the spider mask. The star of the show is the animation, though, which has this sort of CG stop-motion feel to it that I'm not knowledgeable enough about animation techniques to properly describe. It's not a style I've seen before, at least, and it's used to great and occasionally psychedelic effect with the movie's many action scenes and displays of physical comedy. A very entertaining movie to just sit back and marvel at. Almost wish I caught it at the cinema first.
Sorry to Bother You (2018)
Sorry to Bother You is one of those rare movies where you think you're there for one reason before realizing you were there for something else; something you had no idea was coming. It's been out long enough now that I'm sure the surprise has been delineated thoroughly (as, I hope, the fact that there's a crazy twist at all, otherwise I've got some apologizing to do) but I won't say what it is just in case. The premise of an African-American dude who gets so good at using his "white voice" - not so much used as an insult against how white people sound, but in the way they're so secure in their own privilege that it puts others at ease - that he becomes his workplace's most successful telemarketer, rising through the ranks to join the rarified elite on the penthouse floor of the company building. From there the movie deals with the usual schisms that form as a result of his new rich person life and the alienating effect that has on his less fortunate circle of friends, his appearing to have "sold out" and crossing picket lines at his old job, the rapid decline of his morals that his new profession demands, a little bit on the deleterious effects of internet meme fame, and the completely nuts final act. It's an entertaining movie, if a little scattershot in the way it progresses and the satirical targets it aims at, and I appreciate some fun speculative fiction from a voice that I don't get to hear too often. Which is to say, ironically enough given the movie's subject matter, a voice that isn't white. (I also really liked who they chose for the various "white voices"; comedians like Patton Oswalt and David Cross, known for being a bit nasally and self-assured.)
September's a busy month, as would be expected from the start of fall and the resumption of media that ensues, so let's get down to it:
- September 3rd brought us the Final Fantasy VIII: Remaster which, like the Netflix uploads of Neon Genesis Evangelion a few months back, is introducing a whole new generation of Zoomers to some of the most divisive anime-based childhood staples of us thirtysomething olds. I look forward to seeing more thinkpieces try to figure out what the hell it's trying to say about anything. On the same day we also saw the long-awaited console release of Torchlight II (I have a family member who was stoked to finally play it), another remaster by way of the PS3 literal nightmare dating sim Catherine: Full Body from the Persona/SMT people, the well-regarded Indie roguelike (and possible Legacy of the Wizard spiritual successor?) Children of Morta, and the Switch and Steam ports of delightful collectathon repackage Spyro: Reignited Trilogy.
- September 4th, the very next day, proved to be stacked with surprise Switch releases as a new Nintendo Direct dropped some bombs on us, not least of which was the Switch debut of Divinity: Original Sin II (with Steam cross-saves?!) and the even more surprising Deadly Premonition Origins, a port of the classic 2010 Swery whodunnit in preparation for its upcoming Switch-exclusive sequel. There's also that F2P Super Kirby Clash which I'm not particularly jazzed about.
- September 5th (already this is looking like a dense month, if we're getting multiple games per day) brought us River City Girls, the WayForward/Arc Systems Works co-production that revisits the two paramours of Technos's Kunio-kun universe, and Atomicrops, the gooey and violent farming simulator parody.
- September 6th features Monster Hunter World: Iceborne, but I don't care about that. What I do care about, at least slightly more than the doldrums of Monster Hunter, is Creature in the Well: the surreal pinball Zelda-like dungeon crawler with an odd cel-shaded look that is a contender for Best Styyyyyyyle if nothing else.
- September 10th, now that I've actually reached the future as of writing, will see the arrival of Blasphemous: another 2D Indie Souls-like with some very striking gritty pixel art. It's been a good time recently for games in the Souls mold, between also The Surge 2, Hunt: Showdown, and Remnant as well as the upcoming Hollow Knight: Silksong, so I hope Blasphemous finds a niche it can carve out for its own. A lot of folk seem eager to try Greedfall too, despite being made by B-Game merchants Spiders, so I'll wait and see what the word of mouth is like around that one when it releases.
- September 13th is Borderlands 3 season, with such a huge promotional push for the game that it beggars belief. I really wonder if it has what it takes to compete with the polished likes of Destiny and other shlooters built on Borderlands' hoary blueprint, or if people will immediately remember the revulsion felt by certain characters across the Borderlands universe as they hold a copy in their hands in the line at GameSpot (or, increasingly more likely, a copy in their digital shopping cart). I'm cautiously optimistic it'll turn out fine, but I dunno if I really have any affection for this genre any more. Might make for a fun four-person feature on the site though, especially if we get to see Jeff/Alex's live reactions to all the "jokes". If that wasn't enough, the 13th is also the debut of Daemon X Machina, which Austin made sound like you'd need an acquired taste to enjoy it: something a bit heavy on the mecha sim elements to be approachable by the mecha-disinclined.
I'm starting to run out of steam a bit, so here's a few more highlights in brief:
- September 17th: AI: The Somnium Files, a new visual novel adventure game by Kotaro Uchikoshi, the creator of the Zero Escape games. Always fascinated by whatever pseudo-science fuelled anime murder kick that guy might be on next.
- September 17th: The bizarre Groundhog Day: Like Father Like Son, the VR sequel to the beloved time-looping comedy. I just have to know what that is, and maybe I'd like to see VR Vinny drop a toaster in his bath too.
- September 20th: Untitled Goose Game, which at this point has a level of hype that promises an experience the full game cannot possibly deliver. My expectations aren't much higher than being mildly amused by the sociopathic antics of a wayward gander, and I hope it can meet them.
- September 20th: Rain of Reflections, an XCOM style cyberpunk RPG that gives me Mirror's Edge/Remember Me vibes with its presentation. Looks a bit shaky animation-wise from the trailer, but the style and soundtrack seem like winners.
- September 20th: The Legend of Zelda: Link's Awakening is probably going to have to be my pick of the month, even if I've played the original at least three times through. It won't have too many surprises left for me, but I'll probably cry the first time I hear Malon sing the Ballad of the Wind Fish, and delight in the many Nintendo references and silly instances in that wonderful game.
- September 24th: The Surge 2, the next in the futuristic Souls-like series that incorporates bio-mechanical upgrades instead of weapons and armor, and continues the first game's subversive look into the horrors of a corporate-run future. The early gameplay demos seem promising, and it's an excuse to finally play the first game (like Dragon Quest Builders, a lot of games coming out this year are prompting me to play their predecessors).
- September 27th: Code Vein, speaking of Soulslikes with different angles. This one's more of an anime vampire thing that greatly resembles the God Eater series, so I might wait to see what Jason's take on it is.
- September 27th: Finally, we have the enhanced Switch port of Dragon Quest XI: Echoes of an Elusive Age Definitive Edition, a game I'm told is very good. I'm not sure if the Switch version will be the one I end up buying, as I'm hoping the PS4 version will drop in price in order to be competitive and I'll just snag that instead. I'm generally of the mindset that enormous RPGs probably don't need any extra content.
Jeez, it's a busy month. And this doesn't even cover surprise launches or Indie sleepers, both of which seem more likely now that summer has ended. It's going to be an exciting time for games over the next month, and I'm looking forward to... ignoring most of it and playing Yakuza 0 and a bunch of older Indies instead, most likely. Catch you again for Halloween season, my fellow autumn appreciators.