This Week in Games
Requiem for Alphadream

by Heidi Kemps,

Hey everyone! Did you know you can finally, finally play with friends in Super Mario Maker 2 now? No more struggling to achieve any sort of victory against obnoxious randos, hooray! There are some new features for local play, too, so if you were soured from a terrible first experience with Mario Maker 2 multiplayer, it might be worth trying again with a posse.

Unfortunately, there's also some pretty bad news this week in regards to Mario that may spell the end to one of Mario's most beloved spinoff series.

ALPHADREAM IS NO MORE

News began to hit the internet late Tuesday night that longtime Nintendo-affiliated developer Alphadream, makers of the Mario & Luigi RPG series, had filed for bankruptcy in Japan. This isn't “restructure-while-we-get-our-shit-together” bankruptcy as is allowed in the US, either: this is “put a fork in us, we're done” bankruptcy. And that suuuuuuuuucks.

Alphadream began its life as a construction firm, which seems kinda weird at first, but a lot of prolific game developers and publishers began in other industries entirely. (See: Nintendo themselves.) Interestingly, they got into game development around the end of the 32-bit era, the same time that a lot of companies that had tried to diversify into the field and faltered were getting out. They got their big break by contracting with Nintendo to develop a new Mario RPG for the Gameboy Advance. This wasn't an easy task: they had to follow up the universally beloved Super Mario RPG and Paper Mario, making something that used many of the concepts of those games (timing-based combat, puzzle solving) without being direct copies of them. Thankfully, they pulled it off, and Mario & Luigi: Superstar Saga became one of the gems of the GBA library, setting the stage for numerous games to come.

Of course, there's interesting stuff Alphadream made before and after Mario & Luigi, too. Kotobattle was a card-collecting/battle game for the Gameboy Color based on the Japanese kotodama concept. Tomato Adventure was a Japan-only Gameboy Advance RPG that shows a lot of the same visual stylings that would become part of the distinct Mario & Luigi “look”. And then there's a whole mess of Hamtaro games. They didn't do every Hamtaro game, but most of the later ones were their work, and if you look at the animation and sprites you can definitely see that Alphadream touch.

So, what happened? The Mario & Luigi series seemed to be doing pretty well, as it comprised the majority of Alphadream's output since Superstar Saga's release. A look at some recent sales figures, however, reveals trouble. The 3DS's popularity was waning since the Switch's release, but Alphadream was tasked with remakes of Superstar Saga and Bowser's Inside Story for the ailing platform rather than new Mario & Luigi titles on Switch. While these remakes were solid, fans didn't see a compelling reason to buy a slightly-enhanced game on a dying platform. Sadly, Alphadream's final Mario & Luigi game, the Bowser's Inside Story 3DS remake, has the depressing distinction of being one of the worst-selling Mario games in Japan, and I doubt its sales elsewhere were enough to make up for it.

Personally, one thing I always loved about the Mario & Luigi games was the sprite art. Alphadream's amazing artists killed it out of the gate with the original Superstar Saga, and as time passed they just got better and better at making Mario characters come to life in a very distinct way. Animations are vibrant and lively, filled with charm and care, while the colorful backgrounds are packed with artistic flourishes that make the odd places the duo visit on their journey truly memorable.

Alas, it really does feel like we've lost something special with Alphadream's shuttering. You could always count on the Mario & Luigi games to be funny, engaging, and visually distinct, and even if somebody else takes over development, it probably won't feel the same. All we can do now is hope Nintendo and Square-Enix get the band back together for the Super Mario RPG 2 people have dreamed of for years.

A HEAPING HELPING OF POKEMON SWORD AND SHIELD NEWS

Earlier this week, Game Informer revealed the Pokemon Sword and Shield themed covers for their newest issue, which also contains numerous features and interviews about the soon-to-be-released critter collecting epic. To celebrate the cover reveal, Game Informer also dropped several tantalizing nuggets of information about our upcoming Galar expedition on their website.

For starters, we now know that Sword and Shield have some significant quality-of-life improvements. Much like in the Sun and Moon games, HMs will not be present in Sword and Shield, which I think everyone except the most annoying Pokemon purists is totally fine with. You also don't have an EXP Share, either: EXP is automatically divvied up after fights amongst all the Pokemon you are currently carrying. That also sounds great! Finally, the games now have a dedicated autosave function. No more scrambling to write in your log when you see your batteries are about to die, only to see your system shut off mid-save!

More interesting, however, is the claim that Sword and Shield will apparently make far more Pokemon competitive. As it stands right now, Pokemon that are viable on the competitive circuit make up a very small percentage of the Pokedex, and even if you get them, managing to secure the right combination of EVs, IVs, Natures, and what-have-you required a tremendous effort. Specifics are vague, but it still looks like you won't be able to wreck everybody with a Magikarp – rather, it looks like the player will have more direct input when it comes to Pokemon stats.

Finally, there's the ever-present issue of the National Dex. While it was confirmed that, no, there's still no comprehensive National Dex in Sword and Shield (and the game's pretty much gone gold at this point, so it's Really Not Happening), that doesn't mean Pokemon from past games are doomed to never appear again: you'll be seeing them return, probably as new and interesting regional variants, in titles to come. The decision to not include every Pokemon ever in games from this point on was a joint decision between Nintendo, GAME FREAK, and Creatures, Inc., who all agreed that resources were better spent elsewhere and that culling some critters from the crop would allow more interesting gameplay ideas to be implemented in the future. I'm OK with that, just as long as they agree that Misdreavus is the best Pokemon and deserves to be everywhere.

R-TYPE FINAL 2 RETURNS TO CLAIM YOUR WALLET

The R-Type Final 2 Kickstarter that ran a few months back was… odd. It was only a week long, but developer Granzella managed to smash their 45 million yen goal regardless. Still, because of the odd timing and short length, it seems like a lot of folks who wanted to contribute were unable to do so. In response, Granzella has opened up another round of crowdfunding, this time via their website. All of the Kickstarter rewards are available, so if you missed the ship the first time around, you might want to get in now.

Granzella also showcased a bit of the demo they had on display at this year's TGS. Response to what they showed seemed extremely positive, and they're planning an expanded backer demo for early next year. I'm glad to see the excitement for this one – hopefully it'll carry over to more classic shooting game revivals.

FIGHTING GAME NEWS ROUNDUP: THE REVEAL OF xxAXL420BULLSHITBLAZEITxx

Friends, last week gave us the most important news ever about the new Guilty Gear: there are, in fact, lyrics of the game's official title song that say “THIS IS BULLSHIT BLAZING.”

Oh, yeah, I guess there was something else too, right? Yeah, a new trailer, debuted at CEOtaku over the weekend! It even begins with BULLSHIT BLAZING, showing that ArcSys know everything about anime FGC WANTS.

If the TGS trailer didn't clue you in that character info reveals are going to be a series of short teases followed by expanded gameplay showcases, this pretty much solidifies that's going to be the Guilty Gear news cycle from this point on. Here we get a brief showcase of May, who was shown briefly in the TGS trailer, followed by a tantalizing glimpse of a now fully-pantsed Axl.

Reaction to Axl seemed mixed on Twitter – the butterfly before his appearance apparently had a fair few fans of Anji (who's been MIA since GGXX) hoping that he'd be revealed. Alas, if Anji is in the game – and don't count that out – we'll have to wait for his official debut.

And that's a wrap for the first week of October. I'm curious, do you all have any strong memories of the Mario & Luigi games? Which one was your favorite? I suspect most folks will say Bowser's Inside Story, but I've also been seeing a lot of love for Partners in Time over the past day or so. Let's remember our good times with Alphadream games together in the comments!


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