This Week in Games
The Departed

by Heidi Kemps,

Howdy! I'm back from my travels and ready to talk games again! Of course, since I'm a week behind, I've got a fair bit of major news to catch up on. I was in the Denver area and surroundings for a wedding, and while the focus was on the ceremony, I did get a chance to meet up with friends and explore the region a bit. I can attest that Akihabara Arcade is extremely legit and you all should go, even if their MaiMai Finale machine's a little expensive. (Akihabara at least sets their MaiMai cabinets to event mode to unlock all the songs and videos, unlike Round 1, so that very much makes it worth a buck a play, in my opinion!)

Before we begin the column, however, I'd like to touch upon the recent passing of someone whose contributions to gaming history are immense: Hiroshi Ono, known to his colleagues and fans as Mr. Dotman.

Ono joined Namco in 1979, where he went to work in the company's booming arcade business. He was a talented graphic designer and illustrator, creating logos and promotional illustrations, but Ono's true talent shown in bringing out the most of games’ limited visuals of the era. At a time when pixel art in games was extremely crude, Ono made colorful, cartoony sprite characters that stood out.

The aliens of Galaga, the expressive and charming animated critters of Dig Dug and Mappy, the striking backgrounds of Xevious, the amazingly-detailed-for-the-time F1 car in Pole Position – all of these wouldn't exist were it not for Ono's pioneering work in creating pixel art. He elevated early gaming sprite design, inspiring other budding artists of the golden age to elevate the quality of their own output. He continued to work with Namco for decades afterwards, even as 3D visuals became predominant and the company merged with Bandai, before going freelance in 2013 – but even then, he would continue to collaborate with his old employer, making retro-style sprites of Tekken and [email protected] characters for promotions.

While Ono's work was incredibly important, the lack of credits in the early games meant that he went unrecognized for quite some time. Even now, his contributions to the world of videogame art are largely unknown outside of Japan's retrogaming community, which is a damn shame. A crowdfunded documentary about his life looked to change this, but sadly, he passed away from illness not long after the campaign opened. (The film is fully funded and will still be made, but without his direct participation.)

Ono was a true pioneer whose contributions to gaming can still be felt to this day. His life's work is present in every pixelly Pac-man ghost or Galaga alien adorning a retro arcade, and his influence on the evolution of pixel art persists on every modern sprite-based game. Thank you, Ono, for helping make gaming a much more beautiful place.

DEPARTURES AND ACQUISITIONS: NAGOSHI'S OUT, YAMAGIWA'S IN

A couple of weeks ago, Bloomberg was reporting that China's NetEase was attempting to court Yakuza and Super Monkey Ball creator Toshihiro Nagoshi away from Sega in order to start further building an international stable of game studios. It appears their efforts have been successful, as not long after my previous column went up, Toshihiro Nagoshi posted his farewell on the official Ryu ga Gotoku Studio website.

Not going to lie here: as a longtime Sega fan, him leaving the company stings. He was one of the most visible talents at Sega during their late 90s/early 2000s rebirth, fall, and transformation, and seeing him leave feels losing a link to that wild Sega spirit of yesteryear. He's not the only series veteran leaving, either -- longtime designer/director/producer for Yakuza Daisuke Sato also posted a goodbye note on the same site. While there's no confirmation that he's joining Nagoshi at his new employer, it would certainly make sense. But don't fret, Yakuza fans: the series is still going strong, plenty of the old guard are still on the team, and a sequel to Like a Dragon is already in the works.

Meanwhile, KOEI-Tecmo's Team Ninja has gained a new member: one Masaaki Yamagiwa. Yamagiwa was part of the mass exodus from Sony's Japan Studio earlier this year, and while many former members have since created their own companies, Yamagiwa decided to join up with the very busy crew that's been making Nioh and Final Fantasy Origin. Yamagiwa's resume includes producer credits on Tokyo Jungle and Bloodborne, so it'll be interesting to see what he gets up to over at his new place of work. I'm glad to see these jettisoned Japan Studio talents landing on their feet, and I hope Yamagiwa continues his good work.

NINTENDO'S GOT MORE ANIMAL CROSSING AND NEW NINTENDO ONLINE PRICING… wait, I gotta pay HOW MUCH to play Sega games?!

It feels like Nintendo's been dragging their feet with big Animal Crossing: New Horizons expansions, instead choosing to dole out small event updates every so often. It's somewhat understandable, though: ACNH released just as the pandemic hit, so the chaos that caused to basically every game's development schedule also slammed the team working on ACNH updates. But good news, island-dwellers! We now have a massive content update slated for early next month! I'm not sure I 100% agree with the decision to dump all of the new additions in one big bundle a year and a half post-launch, but I'm sure Nintendo has reasons. Maybe not good reasons, but reasons.

And boy howdy, there's a whole lot of stuff crammed into version 2.0 of New Horizons. Cooking? Yes! Better item customization? Yes! Boat rides with Kapp'n? Yes! Old favorite characters taking up residence on Harv's island? Hell yes! Brewster? Extremely yes! Froggy chair?!?

.·:**˚¨¨* FROGGY ≈★≈ CHAIR *¨¨˚**:·.

But wait, there's more! There's also New Horizons DLC, titled Happy Home Paradise. This is essentially what Happy Home Designer was to New Leaf on 3DS: a fun little spinoff where you're given freedom to plan and decorate homes without having to worry about the work needed to actually acquire all of the stuff. I enjoyed Happy Home Designer as a chill creative experience, so it's nice to see it come back, though $25 might be a little steep for some folks. But you can negate the extra cost somewhat…

Nintendo also took the opportunity during the presentation to talk a bit more about their new tier of Nintendo Switch Online service. Besides getting access to games from the Sega MegaDrive/Genesis and N64 libraries, upgrading your membership tier also gets you Happy Home Paradise for free. Well, free as long as you're subscribed at that tier, anyway. And the cost?

$50 a year.

Okay, $50 a year might not seem like much to those used to paying for PS Plus or Xbox Live, but it's a marked increase over the normal $20 a year Switch Online service for what feels like not much added value. Getting access to MegaDrive and N64 games and an Animal Crossing spinoff (that you lose access to if you decide to dump Expansion Pack access) feels like significantly less value than the free games Sony and Microsoft give out each month with your paid memberships. It feels like Nintendo looked at those services and tried to mimic them extremely poorly. Fans are not pleased, and the Expansion Pack announcement video on YouTube has been getting heavily dislike-bombed since it went up. Maybe Nintendo will make the Expansion Pack more worthwhile in the future, but for now, the overwhelming sentiment is a great big “no thanks.”

But at least Froggy Chair is free. Froggy Chair will never betray us.

ELDEN RING WAS UNSURPRISINGLY DELAYED, BUT HEY, AT LEAST SOME FOOTAGE LEAKED

It's been more than two years since Sekiro was released, and since then, fans of From Software's Souls and Souls-adjacent games have had to make do with the PS5 Demon's Souls remake. (Assuming they were able to get a PS5.) But the game Souls fans really, really want and have been salivating over for quite some time is Elden Ring, the dream collaboration between Game of Thrones author George R. R. Martin and From Software.

Unfortunately for the fans, everyone involved with Elden Ring has been extremely tight-lipped about it. That hasn't stopped some Elden Ring media from leaking out, however, and every time it's happened fans have rushed for a new taste of content like starving dogs. How do you know when fans are desperate for information about a game? When they are losing their minds over thirty seconds of footage featuring a cloaked warrior jumping around on some rocks.

Yeah, it's not exactly the best footage, or very representational of what the final gameplay could be like. But it is at least something, which is a lot more than the jack squat of substantial Elden Ring info we've been given since its 2019 announcement. I don't want to disparage fans for getting hype over these scraps, because publisher Bandai-Namco's marketing so far has certainly left a lot to be desired.

The lack of info lead many to speculate that the game would likely be delayed, and that's exactly what happened: Elden Ring has been pushed back from a January 2022 release date to February 25th. Not a huge delay, but just enough time to add some extra polish and bugfixes. And you'll have a chance to help with said bugfixes, too: a network beta test for the game will go live on November 12th and run through the 14th. If you're interested, you'll want to register on the official website. Have at it, warriors!

ASSORTED NEWSBITS

  • There's another Neptunia spinoff coming: a Space Harrier-like pixel-art rail shooter called Dimension Tripper Neptune: TOP NEP. Leaning hard into the memes for this one, I see. It's due out early next year, and has only been announced for PCs via Steam so far. The screens I've seen look nice and colorful, though I'm waiting to see how smooth it is in motion.
  • Super Robot Wars 30's first set of DLC has already been announced. Pack #1 includes characters and mechs from the Original Generations series (RyuKoOh/Kusuha and KoRyuOh/Bullet), Voltes V, Char's Counterattack: Beltorchika's Children, and the series getting my timeline the most excited, Sakura Wars.
    Unfortunately, since these characters and their associated scenarios are DLC, they likely won't be integrated into the main story much, if at all. But hey, getting to hang out with Sakura and Erica a little is better than not at all, right?
  • 2018's God of War has been announced for PCs, making it the latest big PlayStation exclusive to be ported to PC (years later so as not to cut into sales). I'm sure it won't be the last, either.
  • Not too much for fighting game news while I was away, but I always post King of Fighters XV character trailers, so have some Heidern:

I think that's all for this week. Do you have any thoughts on the recent Sega departures? Are you paying (or not paying) for the expanded Switch Online service? Or perhaps counting down the days until the Elden Ring beta test? Come share your takes of varied temperatures with your fellow ANN readers in the forums, which just so happen to be linked below, how about that! Have a great weekend, and I'll see you again soon!


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