This Week in Games
Stay Home, Play Games

by Heidi Kemps,

Dammit! Here I was thinking those Nintendo Direct rumors this week weren't going to pan out because you were quiet on Monday and Tuesday. Then comes Thursday morning and you just throw it out like it's no big deal just as we're about to publish this. My article scheduling is all messed up now! THANKS, NINTENDO.

YOU CAN HAVE LITTLE A NINTENDO DIRECT, AS A TREAT

Well, anyhow, this is a “Mini Direct”, which I guess means to focus is less on far-out titles like, say, the next Zelda or Metroid Prime 4 and more on things coming in the next couple of months. Let's look briefly at the more interesting bits:

  • Xenoblade Chronicles Definitive Edition is looking great! The game has a host of quality-of-life enhancements, improved sound and graphical quality, and even a new bonus epilogue chapter called Future Connected. Reyn Time makes its glorious return on May 29th. Wow, that's pretty soon! Hope we're all done with Persona 5 Royal, FFVII Remake, Sakura Wars, and Trials of Mana by then…
  • 2K Games is re-issuing a whole bunch of fan-favorite series as compilation packages on Switch, including Bioshock, X-COM 2, and Borderlands. The games might be older, but it's always nice to have a convenient platform to enjoy your favorites on.
  • Animal Crossing New Horizons will be having its first seasonal events soon, including an egg hunt hosted by a creature that looks uncomfortably like Robbie the Rabbit from Silent Hill 3 in a different color scheme.
  • Good Job! is a new downloadable game from Nintendo themselves releasing immediately. It definitely looks like a clever and fun little puzzle-solving game, and I like the aesthetic, but, uh… given what's happening right now, maybe a game about work isn't the best thing to launch today. Gotta learn to read the room, Nintendo.
  • Catherine Full Body is getting a Switch port, which has been heavily rumored for a while. It'll be interesting to see how it compares to the PS4 version, performance-wise, and if there will be anything unique added to it.
  • Ring Fit Adventure is getting an update that adds a bunch of new stuff, including a rhythm-game mode! By the way, Ring Fit Adventure is now selling for absurd prices in the aftermarket as folks looking for an indoor fitness method discover it, so hopefully they get more stock out!
  • Smash Ultimate is getting a new fighter, and… we don't know who they are yet, but they're from ARMS. Cover boy Spring Man would make sense, but given that the internet is collectively horny for Twintelle, I'm going to put my money on her. (Plus, it'd be nice to have an actual default dark-skinned character in Smash. No, fantasy dark skin like Ganondorf doesn't count.) We'll know more by June, when the fighter is set for release.
  • Bravely Default 2 is looking pretty great! I'm a little sad that the official art doesn't appear to have Akihiko Yoshida's involvement, but the in-game visuals look fantastic, and the gameplay's exactly what we remember and love. There's a demo version out on the eShop today, and the dev team's looking to get feedback from players, so if you're keen on helping out the Bravely team give it a spin and let them know what you think!
  • It feels like it's been a while since we've seen or heard about Gungho's free-to-play team battle game Ninjala, but it's looking quite nice! I'm eager to give it a whirl once it drops in late May.
  • WHAT DO YOU MEAN PANZER DRAGOON REMAKE IS OUT TODAY WHERE IS MY CREDIT CARD
  • Oh wow, Driller Drill Land! This was a GameCube exclusive that never made it Stateside and is generally considered by fans to be the pinnacle of the excellent Mr. Driller arcade action/puzzle series. Rad to see it get a second lease on life – hopefully Bandai-Namco will give it the promotion it deserves.
  • We end with some more details on the upcoming Pokémon Sword/Shield expansion, The Isle of Armor, detailing exactly how you obtain Kubfu and its multiple fighting styles when evolved. Starters will also earn a Gigantamax form once you complete the DLC content, and they all look pretty sick, especially Intelleon with that ice-cold Golgo 13 snipe.

Okay! I think that wraps most of it up. There's a bit more news on non-Nintendo stuff today, but we'll save that for next week when more details emerge. Now back to what I originally wrote!

EVERYBODY WANTS TO GO TO ANIMAL CROSSING

I have a feeling that Animal Crossing New Horizons was going to be 2020's best-selling game in Japan, and it's already off to an amazing start. In a little under one week, ACNH has moved 1.88 million copies in Japan, beating even the likes of Super Smash Bros. Ultimate to earn the highest first-week sales of any Switch game yet over there. These figures (taken from Famitsu) don't account for digital sales, either – though I'm sure ACNH is probably doing quite well on the Japanese eShop, too. Just not as well as the packaged version.

While sales figures for other territories come later (and are more ambiguous – NPD doesn't publish exact numbers anymore), Animal Crossing seems to be killing it pretty much everywhere. In fact, Switch consoles (of the non-Lite variety) have become rather difficult to find again. Is it the fact that a lot of folks need entertainment right now, or are people buying Switches specifically for ACNH? I think it's a little of column A and a little of column B. In a time where we're being discouraged to travel and socialize with friends IRL, Animal Crossing delivers a more than acceptable substitute. It's exactly the game everyone needs right now.

So, here's a question for everyone. Do you all think Final Fantasy VII Remake is going to outsell Animal Crossing New Horizons in Japan once it launches? I feel like FFVIIR will probably win out in global sales, but the momentum for Switch and Nintendo in Japan right now is tremendous. Very few PS4 games have broke over a million in sales in Japan, and the best-selling PS4 game, Monster Hunter World, is sitting at about 2 million copies shifted by this point – which Animal Crossing has almost beat in a single week, and we all know Nintendo games have very long tails (get it? Tails? HA!) While I expect FFVII to sell well in its own right, even Cloud and Company are likely going to have to bow down before the altar of Tom Nook.  

GAMESTOP GETS A WHOLE MESS OF BAD PRESS

Oof. Remember last week when I mentioned that GameStop was kinda treating its workers badly? Well, soon after that article went live, things got a whole lot worse.

You may have heard that GameStop isn't doing so hot as of late. They've been struggling financially for a few years now, and recently brought in a bunch of new executives (including our old pal Reggie Fils-Aime) to try and right the ship. The coronavirus is hitting them at the worst possible time: a bunch of new, very hotly anticipated games are releasing that would help their bottom line immensely, but there's pressure to close the stores (those small cramped stores are quite bad for social distancing). Yet if a lot of those stores close, there's a decent chance that they may not ever reopen.

The solution? Declare that you are an essential retail business!

Yes, according to a leaked email, in regions where local governments were asking non-essential retail businesses to close, GameStop employees were being instructed to argue that the stores “enable and enhance our customers’ experience in working from home.”

Well! Once that got into the wild, GameStop very quickly backpedaled, closing its walk-in storefronts to browsing customers and offering them the option of expedient pickup (or shipping) instead. We all love video games here, but I think we can all agree that, in an era of digital storefronts, GameStop is hardly an “essential retail business,” unless somebody has an electricity generator powered by burning Funko Pops. (Please, somebody, work on inventing this.)

Obviously, this was a phenomenally awful move by GameStop that risked the health of employees, and cries for the company's swift death came quite loudly on Twitter and elsewhere. Yes, GameStop is pretty slimy in a lot of ways, but at the same time, I don't want them to die, simply because in a lot of areas of the US they're the only brick-and-mortar place you can go to get niche titles and limited editions. Their death would definitely damage a lot of smaller publishers who put out the sort of games I enjoy. Anyone else here remember how badly the Musicland Group bankruptcy damaged the anime DVD and Blu-Ray market? How about Borders and manga? I'd really rather not see that again with games. It's a crappy situation all around, and I just have a sinking feeling it's not going to end well.

SEGA IS 60 AND THEY HAVE A NEW SPOKESMAN

Wow, Sega's pretty old! They've got nothing on Nintendo's lifespan, but dang, they've been producing arcade stuff from before entertainment centers even had video games! With such a momentous anniversary should come a big celebration – and Sega's bringing the birthday hype with a brand-new spokesperson.

Meet Sega Shirou, progeny of globally beloved Sega pitchman and Sega Saturn enthusiast Segata Sanshiro. I'm not kidding – he's Maito Fujioka, son of actor Hiroshi Fujioka, Segata Sanshiro's actor. Unlike his father's rather… aggressive promotion of Sega products, however, Sega Shirou prefers a friendlier (though still rather bizarre) approach, as seen in this video introducing the character:

Alongside this new spokesman, Sega has a special 60th anniversary landing page (in English!) with a message from president Haruki Satomi, a coming-soon form for submitting your thoughts to Sega (please don't make a bot to spam them with Virtua Fighter 6 requests, think of the poor intern that has to wade through them all), and an interactive history page. Unfortunately, they, uh… didn't change the page text before the Olympics got postponed, huh? Yes, 2020, a very “auspicious” year indeed.

Anyhow, it seems like more 60th-anniversary-related announcements are forthcoming, so I'm definitely hyped. Give me a Saturn Mini, please!

MINI-REVIEW: BUBBLE BOBBLE 4 FRIENDS

If you follow me on Twitter and elsewhere, you're probably aware that one of my life mottos is “Play Taito Games.” Yes, I stan this developer/publisher pretty darn hard, especially their classic arcade lineup. I've been particularly pleased to see them hopping back into publishing for consoles and PC, as they've got a fantastic library of classic IP to make use of.

Aside from Space Invaders, few Taito franchises are as globally beloved as Bubble Bobble. Cute visuals, catchy music, easy to pick-up-and-play mechanics, an astonishing depth of skill and technique – what's not to love about Bubble Bobble? The game's every bit as good as it was when it first hit arcades back in 1985. But since then, Taito (and numerous subcontracted developers) have struggled immensely with recapturing that magic – the only Bubble Bobble followup that even comes close to touching the original's quality is 1994's Bubble Symphony. In fact, a lot of Bubble Bobble games are just… well, not good. So when Taito announced Bubble Bobble 4 Friends, an all-new four-player Bubble Bobble game, I was cautiously optimistic. I was eager to try it out when I was provided a review code. Sadly, I'm here to report that Bubble Bobble 4 Friends is, in fact, kinda not great.

Most of you know how the gameplay here goes: you're a cute little bubble-blowing dragon, and you clear single-screen levels by hopping around, trapping enemies in bubbles, and popping them, all while collecting various bonus items and points and sometimes using special bubbles and power-ups to gain the upper hand. It's a great gameplay foundation to build on, and the better Bubble Bobble games accomplish that through things like clever stage design, fun surprises, and a crazy variety of power-ups that function in useful, interesting ways. The lesser Bubble Bobble games simply tack on a hodgepodge of poorly-conceived gimmickry that attempts to masquerade as fun.

Bubble Bobble 4 Friends has gimmicks. It has a lot of gimmicks. And they're not fun.

What are some of the most fun elements of playing the original Bubble Bobble? You might say things like “getting a bunch of enemy bubbles together to pop for a big satisfying combo,” “playing with my friend and being semi-competitive over points and collectibles,” “seeing a rare and super-cool powerup appear out of nowhere.” And if I told you Bubble Bobble 4 Friends has none of these elements, you'd probably be like “What? Why would you take that out?” Good question, because I don't know either!

Well, okay, I can make a guess: the developers wanted to simplify things to make sure four players could play at once. Your entire crew of bubble dragons shares a pool of lives, works together to earn a single high score, and are encouraged to run off to different areas of the level to eliminate enemies in a chain of separate bubble-blasts rather than one big cluster. There are no collectibles in the stages aside from the round-end bonus items: instead, you earn special-ability bubbles as you progress through the game and can equip them from a loadout screen before you start the next set of stages. That way, nobody has to fight over powerups or scoring, because we're all friends here!

…except, y'know, competitive hijinks in Bubble Bobble were actually a lot of fun. And the power-ups were great and always beneficial. 4 Friends's limited-use loadout abilities, in contrast, are super awkward to use and fail to deliver the same sort of satisfaction.

In addition, many elements of the game just feel off. One addition I actually think is a good idea is that you automatically keep jumping on a bubble until you hold down on the D-pad, rather than needing to keep the jump button held. The execution, however, is botched: for example, if you're standing on solid ground and a bubble wafts up beneath you, you'll start jumping on it automatically. Also, ways to pop bubbles and bubble clusters that worked in previous titles don't work here in 4 Friends. Stages are filled with distracting background elements that look like platforms you can hop on (they aren't), and the addition of elements like spikes, crawlspaces, and solid platforms you can't jump through from below don't make things any more enjoyable.

There's a lot more I can talk about -- the bland to downright bad stage design, the annoying starting points on the levels, the lack of enemy variety, the uneventful boss fights, the game's short length at 50 stages (not counting hard mode), the general cheap feeling of it all – but I think I've made my point. Bubble Bobble 4 Friends is a disappointment. It at least functions, which is more than I can say for some other Bubble Bobble releases, but there's not a lot of satisfaction to be had here. The best part of Bubble Bobble 4 Friends is that it has a barebones port of the original Bubble Bobble arcade game, which can be easily and more cheaply obtained elsewhere. I really hope Taito can do better with IP they decide to revive next, because this one's a dud.

Well then, I think that's all for TWIG this week. Are you playing Animal Crossing, or are you biding your time for the release of Persona 5 Royal or Final Fantasy VII Remake? Or maybe you're rip-and-tearing through Doom Eternal? Mosey on over to our forums below to talk about what you're playing (or what you'd like to be playing). Thanks for reading, and I'll see you again soon!


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