This Week in Games
Make it Snappy

by Heidi Kemps,

What's it like not having E3? Well… it means getting interesting announcements spread across all of June rather than having them all dumped in front of you at once. It's refreshing, isn't it? You have a few days to analyze and appreciate what you saw, rather than having to immediately forget about it to get hype for the next thing in a presentation. I think I like it better this way.

Take Nintendo, for instance. Rather than a big E3 Nintendo Direct, they've been dropping trailers and announcements every few days. Over the past week, we got a deeper look at Paper Mario: Origami King (still looks great!), and something else I'm actually pretty excited about: the Mario Lego sets.

I'm not much of a Lego person myself, but as someone who enjoys building models, I definitely respect Lego for all the creative fun it's delivered for multiple generations of kids. The ways Lego has adapted popular media properties is great, too… but wow, these Mario sets look to be on another level entirely. Rather than just having you build re-creations of locales like Peach's Castle or whatever, the designers of the Lego Mario sets have found a way to implement elements of the actual games into construction and play.

I really love how these are laid out like classic Mario overworld maps! I also like the fact that you can change pieces out to give Mario different abilities and reactions to the environment you play with him in. It's like Mario Maker in toy form, and I'm impressed. It feels like a Nintendo Lego set has been a long time coming, and they totally knocked it out of the park.

There's more Nintendo news that just dropped today, but first…

HEY, HERE'S A BUNCH MORE KINGDOM HEARTS SPINOFFS YOU'LL NEED TO PLAY TO UNDERSTAND THE INCREASINGLY CONVOLUTED PLOT

Are you dissatisfied with the cliffhanger endings of Kingdom Hearts III, and the equally confusing story elements that got tossed in during the ReMind DLC? Well, good news – there's more Kingdom Hearts coming to resolve all those dangling plot threads! Though they're not quite what you might expect.

The big announcement is Kingdom Hearts: Melody of Memory. As you may have guessed from the title, this is a rhythm game featuring music from across the Kingdom Hearts series. Sora, Donald/Goofy, and a buddy from one of the various Disney worlds auto-run along a set bath, smashing foes to the rhythm of your favorite (and not-so-favorite) Kingdom Hearts jams. Square Enix doesn't dabble in music games all that often, but when they have, the results have been generally quite good (see: the Theatrhythm games), so there's good reason to be optimistic about this one. Melody of Memory is going to release on PS4, Xbox One, and… Switch? There hasn't been much Kingdom Hearts representation on Nintendo's platform so far, so that's interesting.

Also, there's a stinger with Kairi in the trailer, so… yeah, Squeenix says don't skip this because it has important plot stuff you need to know!!!

There's also Kingdom Hearts Dark Road, a mobile game within the Kingdom Hearts Union X app. This one's been in the works for a while (it was formerly known as Project Xehanort), and it looks set to just barely, technically keep its “Spring 2020” release by dropping just before the summer solstice. You'll be able to play it next week to experience the story of how Xehanort became The Big Bad of Kingdom Hearts.

These were all shown off during a “Kingdom Hearts 2020” presentation that is also dropping hints about yet more unannounced Kingdom Hearts stuff. I mean, it says “three new stories” and “six new playable characters” within the first 20 seconds, so you know there's more where this all came from. So the question now is… when does Square Enix unveil what else they're working on?

THERE'S SOME NEW POKEMON STUFF, INCLUDING AN EXPANDED PHOTO MODE

And by “expanded photo mode” I mean HOLY SHIT THEY'RE ACTUALLY MAKING POKEMON SNAP 2

Well, it's actually called New Pokémon Snap, but it may as well be Pokémon Snap 2, right? This one's really impactful for the people who have been playing Pokémon since its inception. Pokémon Snap was one of the first Pokémon spinoffs released way back on the N64, and fans have been clamoring for another photo safari since the GameCube era gave us complex 3D Pokémon models and lots of disc space. The Wii and Wii U had features that were perfect for this sort of game (Motion controls! Gamepad with a smaller screen!), and yet Nintendo seemed content to simply sit on the concept until now. But hey, after a smidge over two decades, the wait is finally over!

Pokémon Snap is a game I didn't appreciate until I was well out my obnoxious teenage phase. “Why would anyone want to play a game where you just watch and take pictures?” said my dumbass 15-year-old self. Two decades later, I found myself wondering “Why aren't there more relaxing games like Pokémon Snap among our big game releases?” Another thing I appreciate more now that I'm older: how Pokémon Snap teaches players art concepts like staging and composition. I'm sure the original N64 game awakened art and photography interests in more than a few young players, and hopefully this does the same!

But wait, there's more! We've got a new Pokémon app for cellphones called… Pokémon Smile? Yeah, this one's definitely unexpected.

Basically, it's a tool to help younger kids learn good teeth-brushing habits. Kids love cute Pokémon, right? Yeah, it's not much of a game, but why would anyone get mad about something like this existing? I think the concept could be expanded. Here's an idea: give us Pokémon Con, which will help nerd-convention-goers remember to shower and put on deodorant in the morning.

Next is Pokémon Café Mix, an icon-match puzzle game for smartphones and Switch that feels like it was inspired by Re-Ment's various miniature plastic food sets based on Pokémon. (Seriously, Re-Ment makes some great little minis – check out their stuff if you haven't seen any of it.) This touch-driven puzzler is free to download when it releases (soon), and features a cute little café staffed by various Pokémon you acquire through fulfilling customer orders (as in, clearing puzzles). I'm sure microtransactions are in this somewhere, though, so keep that in mind before you dive in.

Finally, the first batch of Pokémon Sword and Shield DLC is here, but I'm sure that if you were interested in it, you've already downloaded and starting chewing on all of that crunchy new content.  Now to wait for the second pack…

GUILTY GEAR STRIVE'S RETURNING CAST EXPANDS AGAIN

As promised, a new Guilty Gear Strive cast member made their debut on IGN's Summer of Gaming streams. Thus far, most of the returning Guilty Gear cast has been OG fighters like May, Faust, Potemkin, and Millia. The newest character reveal is another returning cast member… but one who we first encountered much more recently.

Ramlethal Valentine is here, and much like the other cast members, she's got a fresh set of clothes… but you can tell that she's still the Ram we know and love. No word about her sister Elphelt yet, but I'd say her odds of inclusion just went up after this announcement. More character reveals are set for August, and hopefully we'll see the first original character new to Strive among them.

So! Are you hype for the return of Pokémon Snap? How about Melody of Memories? Do you still have those stickers you printed out at Blockbuster Video in 1999? Talk all about this week's announcements in the forums, and I'll see you again next week for the New Game!+ Expo announcements. It'll be a doozy!


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