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This Week in Games
Big Dogs and Little Extras

by Heidi Kemps,

As I've mentioned many times before here on This Week in Games, I absolutely love it when old game-related prototypes and designs get dug up. Usually, we only see this stuff through means that are in a legal gray area (at best): somebody has an old ROM that they conveniently never returned to the owner, find an old hard drive at an auction or flea market, or even just straight-out get stuff through hacking – as we've seen in the recent Nintendo leaks.

So I'm pleased as heck that Sega has decided “You know what, screw it, here's a prototype of a canned Golden Axe reboot one of our teams did work on, you can play it this weekend!”

Golden Axed (cute pun, that) is one of three extremely-out-of-left-field Sega titles that will be free on Steam for this weekend only, and perhaps the most interesting from a historical perspective – apparently more Sega revivals in this vein were pitched, but didn't go anywhere. Getting a chance to officially play an unfinished, cancelled game from its would-be publisher is not a thing that happens often, but I'm glad we get to see it officially... even if the story behind the game's development wasn't entirely happy

That's not all, either: you'll also be able to download Endless Zone, a heavily Fantasy Zone-inspired free-roaming shooter. However, I have a feeling that the limited-release Sega title most folks will be gravitating towards is Streets of Kamurocho, a Yakuza-infused take on the Streets of Rage beat-em-ups complete with Kiryu and Majima lifting attacks straight out of the vanilla SoR cast's movesets. I'm hoping this game is more than just “Streets of Rage but with Yakuza graphics hacked in,” but the developer, Empty Clip, has done “demakes” of games like Dead Island and Final Fantasy XV (as well as assisting on Bloodstained), so I have a good feeling. I mean, even if it's not a huge improvement over Streets of Rage, that's a pretty great base to start with, right?

Anyway, that's my obligatory upfront Sega fangirling out of the way, so let's move on to the rest of this week's news!

GUILTY GEAR STRIVE HAS A VERY GOOD BOY AND AN OLD FAVORITE

Woof. Woof woof woof. Woof woof woof? Woof!! WOOF!!!

Ah, whoops, got a little carried away with dog talk after seeing the latest new Guilty Gear Strive character debut on this weekend's Arc System Works livestream. I mean, yes, technically Giovanna here is not the dog, but the woman who looks highly influenced by King of Fighters’ Vanessa (or as I call her, “that other Vanessa”). But come on, we're all here for that big floofy boy. WHO'S A GOOD BOY? YES YOU! YOU'RE A BIG GOOD MURDERBOY~

Also important:

Giovanna wasn't the only fresh face shown, however. There's also that tasty little stinger with a folding fan falling in the wind, only to be clasped by a figure shrouded in darkness…

Yeah, not really a mystery here, it's Anji Mito. Anji sat out all of Xrd, but it looks like he'll be heading back into the fray in Strive! Obviously Anji's fans from the GGXX days are excited, but his inclusion also gives hope to other old favorites like Bridget, A.B.A., and Testament making a comeback. (How Bridget never made it into Xrd is a true mystery.)

The livestream announced a release date, too: April 9th, 2021. A little under half a year from now! A Standard, Deluxe, and Ultimate Edition will be available physically and digitally… though a physical Ultimate Edition appears to be PS5-only, according to this handy chart. The Deluxe and Ultimate Editions will include a season pass for five more characters and two more stages to be added, so if you already know you're going to be serious about your Guilty Gear, you should probably pick that up.

However, some details revealed about Strive’s online play lobbies and modes have caused consternation. Remember those online lobbies with pixel avatars from the beta that everyone hated? For some reason Arc System Works is still pushing ahead with those, as well as removing ranked matches. Instead, players will be assigned to “floors” where they're more likely to encounter opponents of a similar skill level. Some people seem to like this change, but a fair few folks are quite vocal that they don't, so… I guess we'll see how it plays out in practice? For now, I'm just looking forward to petting that pupper.

LEVEL-5 APPEARS TO BE STRUGGLING, MAY SOON LACK A U.S. PRESENCE

The last couple of years have been rather rough for Level-5. Yo-Kai Watch went supernova and burned out spectacularly in Japan, and the attempts to market it overseas were a nonstarter. Professor Layton has been absent for a while (and his mobile-exclusive game never materialized), and Inazuma Eleven's promised revival has been rebooted and delayed over and over. The Snack World was pumped up only to be mostly forgotten after a couple years. Level-5 can't even catch a break in the mobile market: both Dragon & Colonies and Yo-Kai Watch Medal Wars died off this year. Their sole recent bright spot has been Ni no Kuni 2, though general reception to the sequel feels a bit colder than the original.

So, really, it's not that big of a surprise to hear that Level-5's international publishing branch, Level-5 International America, may soon be shuttering. According to GameIndustry.biz, this arm of the company is currently being managed by a skeleton crew, and there are no current plans for releases of upcoming Level-5 titles outside of Japan.

Does this mean no more Level-5 games for the west? Well, not exactly. A lot of Level-5's biggest titles have been published by other companies like Nintendo, Sony, and Bandai-Namco, who are generally better at marketing and promotion than Level-5 themselves have proven to be… though there are a fair few folks who buy into a “Nintendo sabotaged Yo-Kai Watch” theory instead of recognizing that maybe the property just didn't resonate as well outside of Japan.

So what happens now? Level-5 seems to be betting on the upcoming Megaton Musashi property to kick things into gear again, though whether or not it'd be a thing in the West is still up in the air. If it does make it over here, somebody besides Level-5 themselves is going to be handling it, and that's probably for the best.

SONY AND MICROSOFT DETAIL BACKWARDS COMPATIBILITY

With many people still on the fence about jumping into the next-gen pool right away, Sony and Microsoft are using the promise of backwards compatibility with older games to try to open up those wallets. And it seems to be working… to a degree.

The backwards compatibility that's set to be offered on the Xbox Series consoles is nothing to sneeze at: thousands of games, reaching all the way back to the original Xbox, will be playable on both the Series S and X. The games will be graphically enhanced to varying degrees, such as utilizing HDR, upping resolution, and increasing framerates – depending on the game and the hardware it's running on. The Xbox Wire post explaining the backwards compatibility showed off a few demos and comparison screenshots, such as the Xbox One version of Fallout 4 running on the Xbox Series S at 60 FPS:

Xbox One games will be the most compatible with the new hardware, while Xbox 360 and original Xbox support is a bit more hit-and-miss. At least the process of testing all of your library shouldn't be too tough: you'll be able to play games off of a disc, re-download them, or transfer them to the new console by using an external hard drive.

Sony's backwards compatibility plan for the PS5 is more limited: only PS4 games will be backwards compatible with the new console. A bit of a bummer, but the PSOne and PS2 libraries in particular are absurdly huge, and trying to make sure even a fraction of those games run well would be incredibly time-consuming. Focusing on PS4 support also means that players won't miss out on any of the interesting upcoming PS4 titles still in the pipeline.

Only a handful of PS4 games will not work with the PS5, and you can check them all here. I doubt there's anything on there that will break too many hearts. Much like the new Xbox Series, you'll be able to play content either off the disc or through redownloading… assuming you have the version with the Blu-Ray drive, of course. The driveless edition will only support your digital PS4 games

Speaking of Sony, though… oof, that PS4 System Update 8.0 has been kind of a mess, huh? It's designed to streamline grouping for messages and party chat, but seems to have borked things for a fair number of users. I'd say “hold off on downloading” but you don't really have much of a choice. There's also this new warning, which many folks have taken to mean that Sony is listening in to your party chats:

They're missing a key point, however: it's not Sony recording your conversations. They don't do that. See that text there that says chat may be recorded and sent by other users? What they're saying is that if someone else records you being a shithead and reports it, they have the right to ban you. Which Microsoft also will do on XBox Live. It's an important distinction, though in the current Internet of Things That Spy on You, I don't blame people for assuming the worst.

NEWSBITS

  • With Lab Zero Games having imploded, the planned updates for Indivisible are no longer going ahead. That includes several of the guest characters from other games, along with IndieGoGo-backer designed characters. That really sucks!
  • Curious about Kingdom Hearts: Melody of Memory? You'll be able to download a playable demo on Switch, XBone, and PS4 starting today! Give it a shot!
  • The latest Super Smash Bros. Ultimate update, featuring Steve/Alex and a whole mess of gameplay/balance tweaks, is now live. Have fun trolling your opponents with well-placed blocks.
  • Spider-Man: Miles Morales has a good cat: CONFIRMED

Alrighty, that wraps things up for this week. Are you concerned about the Level-5 news? Or perhaps you're getting hyped for Guilty Gear Strive? Are you one of the three bad game enthusiasts who are extremely upset that you won't be able to play Afro Samurai 2: Revenge of Kuma Volume 1 on your shiny new PS5? Come join us in our ongoing gaming discussions below in our forums! See you again next week, same site, same column!


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