This Week In Games
Emotions Running High Like The Temperature
by Jean-Karlo Lemus,
Welcome back, everyone! It seems Spring has given us a miss and we're just skipping right into summer. And that suits me just fine, I've been enjoying my lunches outside in the sunshine for the past week. But I do know a lot of people can't take temperatures above 70 degrees Fahrenheit, so I hope you guys are hydrating and keeping safe while you torture Koroks.
Xenoblade news? Yes! Not much to say besides Ashera being awesome. It's disappointing how there are so many fascinating characters in this game and yet so few of them got any kind of active discussion. Or fanart. But I digress.
Neverrealm Studios Reveals Mortal Kombat 1 (Just Go With It)
After several weeks of teasing on behalf of Mortal Kombat creator Ed Boon, this past week we were given a trailer for the latest entry in the long-running Mortal Kombat series. I fully expected this to be revealed next week, but hey, shows what I know!
Right away, Mortal Kombat 1 has the issue of the title. It's bad enough that 2009's Mortal Kombat ditched the number (it's officially the ninth Mortal Kombat game), now we have this one claiming to be the "first" the same way the Xbox One is the "first" Xbox. Executives will always find the absolute dumbest titles, I swear--remember that period of years where everything had "Ressurection" or "Revelations" tacked onto the title? That said, I do understand the decision: Mortal Kombat 1 takes place directly after Mortal Kombat 11, featuring series protagonist Liu Kang as an Elder God of thunder and fire watching over a timeline where his allies can live in peace. And then someone does the violence, and oh boy, is there violence...
I don't want to give Joe Lieberman any credit, but the latter-day Mortal Kombat games have had an issue with their violence. For one thing, it's crossed the line from the edgy (but ultimately fantastical) violence of the 90s Mortal Kombat games where characters exploded into showers of multiple rib cages and femurs or turned into an ant eater to literally suck up the other character. The violence in Mortal Kombat 11 was just this side of disturbing, with way too many lingering shots of characters actively suffering as they had their skin peeled off or their bones pulverized in an x-ray shot. And it's not just me: the violence was actively making things hard for both people making Mortal Kombat 11 and people playing it. For the players, making any kind of video about MK11 on YouTube came up against YouTube's content algorithms: the gore was such that it would trip the site's content filters, making it difficult (if not impossible) to monetize videos about Mortal Kombat 11. You'd have to jump through a lot of really bothersome hoops, like editing the color of the blood in post. With how much streamers have become the backbone of the community for these games, maybe don't do something that makes it hard for your streamers to put the word out about your game? Especially not while there are other games like Street Fighter 6 or Guilty Gear -Strive- that aren't as bothersome to deal with.
But besides gamers, there was also the toll on developers: there were claims of developers from MK11's art team walking away with PTSD after having to look at so much gruesome content for visual references on a daily basis. This is a significant issue: graphical improvements that come with better tech mean that the bar for realism gets higher and higher. The Dead Space devs at Visceral used to boast about using images of mutilated corpses from accidents as references for Necromorphs back in the 360/PS3 days, and games have only gotten more realistic since (Dead Island 2's zombies are, uh... meaty). And while no doubt plenty of people working on games have the disposition to deal with it, it's probably not the healthiest thing in the world to be exposed to constant gore on a daily basis for months on end.
And it doesn't help that Mortal Kombat has really, really been leaning in on the suffering aspect of it all. There's a way to do over-the-top ultraviolence. Doom and Doom Eternal do a great job of it, what with the violence being so ridiculous it's almost self-parody. Popping out a Cacodaemon's eye is practically comedy. Just this past weekend I watched Renfield, where a guy gets his arms ripped off and he spouts blood out the stumps of his shoulders almost exactly like Nui from Kill la Kill. And then two dudes get their arms impaled through their chests. Is it bloody? Oh, yeah. Is it also hysterical and awesome to see? Heck, yeah. And that's... really not the tone Mortal Kombat 1 has. I really... really don't need to see Kitana shrieking pitifully as Mileena gouges her eyes out with her thumbs. There's a line between American History X playing the curb-stomp scene for horror and Mortal Kombat 1 playing it like it's a money shot.
Pre-ordering Mortal Kombat 1 will land you Shang Tsung as a playable character and will sign you up for their beta, once that goes live at an as-yet-undisclosed date. We'll likely be seeing more about this story in the future.
Local ANN Writer Forgets Fuga: Melodies of Steel 2 Release Date, Tries To Correct
I'm a bad Little Tail Bronx fan. Not only have I never played Tail Concerto on PS1, I completely forgot that Fuga: Melodies of Steel 2 was released last week. May 11th, to be exact... on the eve of The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom's massive Korok-crucifying release. We at This Week in Games like to give some attention to The Little Guy; it's just not fair when otherwise fantastic titles are just completely and hopelessly overshadowed by bigger titles. So we thought we'd give a moment to sell folks on CyberConnect's Fuga 2 and its series at large.
We've talked about the Fuga games before; it's worth touching on them a bit further because they're so tonally different from the other Little Tail Bronx games. A tragic series about a gaggle of French-speaking cat and dog children stuck in a town-sized tank during a terrible war, the Fuga games have you manage the lives of your underage friends as you try to find a quiet place to live. All the while, you're being attacked by WW2-esque military craft, some of which are "charmingly" named after direct WW2 references, like the Zyklon planes. There's also a dark twist: your tank-village has a superweapon that can annihilate anything in one shot... at the cost of the living soul of one of your friends. Predictably, both Fuga games weigh this decision when it comes to your many endings.
And yet, the remaining Little Bronx Tail games aren't so dismal. Tail Concerto is about a young pup named Waffle with dreams of being a great officer as he stops the Black Cats Gang from unwittingly awakening a colossal Iron Giant and destroying their nation of floating islands. Think The Mis-Adventures of Tron Bonne by way of Sherlock Hound, with some Laputa: Castle in the Sky mixed in for flavor. It's a very short PS1 game, but an adorable one--even now, there are some die-hard fans of the series. Also, the game goes for absurd prices on the aftermarket.
While Tail Concerto was beloved, it never did become a smash hit be it critically or sales-wise--much to the dismay of CyberConnect. So they'd spend a good number of years producing anime-based licensed titles to keep the lights on as Hiroshi Matsuyama tried pitching Bandai on a sequel. A sequel eventually did come, in the form of 2010's SoLaToRoBo: Red the Hunter. Taking place in a neighboring kingdom, you played the adventurer Red as he's wrapped up in a world-spanning plot involving ancient treasures, continent-crushing colossi--and the aftermath of the devastation of the human race. There's a lot going on in SoLaToRoBo; it has some really cozy alternate-Earth anime vibes, but its deeper story about the cycle of war, the sacrifices legacy imposes upon innocents thousands of years in the future, and the beleaguered desire for peace can really hit hard. But also: it's a stunning DS game. While definitely very easy, it's one of the most-fun mecha games out there: Red is constantly riding his steampunk mecha, the Dahak, and the game operates off of a fun grappling system where you pick up, throw, swing, and otherwise Stone Cold Stunner your enemies for fun and profit. There are also tons of fun mini-games, like fishing for giant cloud-dwelling hermit crabs that wear battleships as shells or the deeply-satisfying flying races. Sadly, SoLaToRoBo was sold in extremely limited amounts in the US; used copies can also go for three digits. But for a time, the game broke records in another uniquely fun way: commercials!
Cyber Connect 2... really loves the absolute crap out of the Little Bronx Tail series, such that SoLaToRoBo featured a record-breaking one-hundred TV spots. And they're all about world-building! Each and every last one of the commercials goes over some aspect of daily life for Red and his friends, from major political powers to how their toilets work. All of these are lovingly drawn by Nobuteru Yuuki, whose work also graced Tail Concerto. It's a shame so many of these commercials are left untranslated because they're downright fascinating--and again, it speaks to the love that Matsuyama and company have for this series that they put this much consideration into stuff that frankly has jack-all to do with the game.
And that's largely the appeal for the Little Tail Bronx games. On the surface, they're charming and colorful and packed with loveable characters that instantly feel like your favorite TV character from when you were a kid--you know the one, the one you had a plushie of and took absolutely everywhere with you. On a deeper level, they might deal with sadder themes and put our heroes through the wringer, but they're nevertheless lovingly-crafted classics. And I really do hope folks make sure to take some time out of their lives to play both Fuga titles. I promise you, they'll be unforgettable.
Microsoft/Activision-Blizzard Deal Complicates Further, Blizzard Tries To Distract With T-Shirts And Blizzcon
It's been a bit since we last had some news on the attempted Microsoft/Activision-Blizzard merger. When we last left it, the United Kingdom's Competition & Markets Authority placed a ban on the deal due to it giving Microsoft far too much of a stranglehold on the cloud gaming market. Microsoft and Activision-Blizzard were grumbling like scolded children over it, but it looks like they've gotten another complication: even in spite of their attempt at appealing the decision, the CMA has gone and placed a blanket ban on Microsoft investing in Activision-Blizzard in any capacity.
There's a bit of a trick to all of this. Much of the conversation on the Microsoft acquisition looks at only the bigger picture: Microsoft acquiring big properties like Call of Duty or Blizzard's backlog. But there's another--potentially bigger--part of the picture people have ignored: King. This studio is responsible for some of the biggest mobile games in the market, chief among them Candy Crush--a franchise worth $1.2 billion USD. And King is a subsidiary of Activision. While the CMA's previous objection focused on cloud gaming, Microsoft has also made waves with wanting to break into the mobile market. King would give them a massive foothold in that arena. As per the CMA's decision, Microsoft wouldn't even be able to invest in King. This is key: this ensures that Microsoft wouldn't be able to assume any kind of interest in King, be it explicitly by purchasing them or covertly by "investing" in them.
Meanwhile, the European Union has moved to approve the merger, citing several solutions that Microsoft can take in order to encourage fair trade between its properties and other Cloud Gaming services. While the UK's CMA remains steadfast in refusing the deal, the EU's decision is a point in Microsoft's favor. Nevertheless, the US's Federal Trade Commission has sued to block the deal--we won't be hearing any kind of decision in that regard until after the hearing started on August 2nd.
Meanwhile, Blizzard has done as it always has and is trying to distract from its very public matters with... let's spin the wheel and see--aha, yes, announcing a new Blizzcon later this November. Blizzcon 2022 was canceled amidst the very public revelation of the many, many (alleged) abuses going on at Blizzard HQ, from harassment to "frat-like behavior" to women having their breast milk stolen out of the fridges.
Blizzard has earned itself the reputation of making big announcements in an attempt to distract from their bigger controversies, from massive employee layoffs to the termination of their deal with NetEase in China that allowed them to release their games in that country. Lest we forget, the 2019 announcement of Diablo 4 and Overwatch 2 came right on the heels of their highly-criticized treatment of the streamer Blitzchung after he publicly voiced support for then-ongoing protests in Hong Kong.
... As I write this, I realize that I almost forgot the breaking news that many of the PVE feature that Blizzard had announced for Overwatch 2, which included many single-player sequences and skill trees for individual heroes--which were all marketed as selling points for Overwatch 2 and the main reason why it couldn't just be a new patch for the original Overwatch... have been announced as canceled. While we acknowledge the difficulties in maintaining a live-service game... holy crap, you guys, you're your own worst enemies right now. For all we know, Blizzard will be forced to announce Diablo 5, Overwatch 3, and... I dunno, Starcraft 3? It breaks my heart to think of the many people that actively work at Blizzard, genuinely care and believe in what they do, but are surrounded by so much active toxicity. At some point, you need to take the cue from Todd Chavez: "You need to be better." Like, yeah, it's cool that Nintendo released DLC for Xenoblade Chronicles 3--but I haven't heard anything about the treatment of contractors over at Nintendo, and that doesn't make me happy.
🌈 2023 Blizzard Pride Collection in support of @transequality— Blizzard Entertainment (@Blizzard_Ent) May 16, 2023
📕 Learn more at: https://t.co/SNISn7rAQu pic.twitter.com/RvgPy6hNwm
You can summarize all of this with Blizzard's big announcement for the summer: ahead of Pride Month this June, Blizzard announced a special t-shirt in support of the transgender community. Let's ignore the obvious aspect of how the pink letters in the shirt conveniently spell "LIAR", because I don't want my whole career to be "the guy who rails against Blizzard (I want my career to be "That Bitch™ What Simps For Izuna: Legend of the Unemployed Ninja Who Hasn't Beaten Xenoblade 3 Yet"). But announcing a t-shirt in support of Pride a full two weeks before Pride month even begins, when there is already so much discussion of the Rainbow Marketing when these companies swap their rainbow-colored Twitter profile pics on Midnight of July 1st, doesn't inspire the most confidence.
It would be really nice if, for just five minutes, Blizzard was as great as people keep saying it was.
Battlekid Comes Back!
The name Battlekid will have some meaning to you if you are either a fan of homebrew NES titles... or if you like seeing Arin Hanson of the Game Grumps rage at homebrew NES titles. While it looks a ton like famed kaizo-game I Wanna Be The Guy: The Movie: The Game, it's only a matter of similar aesthetics; Battlekid is a super-challenging sidescrolling shooter made for the NES where you control a boy named Timmy who delves into a mad scientist's fortress to stop him from creating an all-destroying mecha. The game works off of a strict one-hit-death rule: Timmy dies if anything so much as grazes him, but enemies can take a ton of shots. As seen with Arin's clip earlier, this makes for a hard game. Thankfully, Battlekid doesn't trade in the kind of cheap shot environments that I Wanna Be The Guy is famous for.
While Battlekid has had several limited physical releases in the past, both for the NES and for the Japanese Famicom (with cover art done by Treasure's artist HAN, even!), and was also released on XBox Live, this week we'll be seeing it come to the Nintendo Switch. Folks who've only played the base Battlekid game have plenty of reason to dive back into this version; not only is this version of the game based on the updated Famicom release, which added some much-needed polish and a bit less unfair, it also features some unique control updates of its own to improve upon the Famicom version. Specifically, it fixes a bug from the Famicom version where changing your direction halted Timmy's movement.
It feels like just yesterday that Nintendo was being given intense backlash for not featuring enough indie games on their consoles, and now they're hosting one of the most famous homebrew NES titles on their storefront. While you can definitely play base Battlekid for free on Itch.io, it's nevertheless fascinating to see a homebrew NES title reworked for a new Nintendo console. That's the kind of story you'd never expect to see when it comes to the Big N. While I do lament the loss of HAN's Japanese-only art (it makes me yearn for a new Gunstar Heroes or Guardian Heroes), we can all look forward to Battlekid's Switch release this week. And hopefully, no unsuspecting kid finds themselves smacking the brick wall that is this game's difficulty!
Original Shantae Coming to PS4 and PS5
WayForward's premier Shantae is coming to PS4 and PS5 this June 2nd! It's weird, to see an ancient GameBoy Color title being ported to such modern consoles, but Shantae is definitely worth the effort--especially with how much it's come into its own.
There's a ton of history behind Shantae. Originally proposed as a SNES platformer, Shantae (the character) was designed by Matt and Erin Bozon; the husband/wife duo wanted to create a female platformer heroine who was a capable heroine in her own right. (Also, her ability to attack with her ponytail was inspired by Matt Bozon's experiences getting slapped in the face by Erin's ponytail by accident one too many times.) The idea for Shantae's game faced a beleaguered development, however: throughout the 90s, many studios were resistant to the idea of a game starring a female character. Remember: for all the credit we give titles like Metroid or even Phantasy Star, female-led games were exceedingly rare in the 90s. "Girl games" were a point of derision, even though there were plenty of important women in the game industry like Roberta Williams, Rieko "Phoenix Rie" Kodama, or Yoko Shimomura. So what better studio for the Bozons to end up with than WayForward Technologies?
Named after the software company from Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency, WayForward has a much wider look at their creations; there's a reason they call themselves "WayForward Technologies" instead of "WayForward Games", after all. Mostly known for making licensed games and software, WayForward nevertheless put tons of effort into licensed games that most other studios would just toss out the window. Their early titles include a lot of edutainment software on PC, as well as some games based on Sabrina the Teenage Witch--and they nevertheless put their best foot forward with them. WayForward would continue to enjoy a reputation of making some seriously good licensed games, even as recently as the Nintendo DS or Wii with titles like Adventure Time: Hey Ice King, Why'd You Steal Our Garbage? or Batman: The Brave and the Bold. But for now, it's the late 90s and the Bozons are at WayForward; a combination of the Bozons' desire to make a good game featuring a female lead and WayForward's commitment to quality leads to the project getting green-lit, and Shantae is produced for the GameBoy Color. There is a lot of programming chicanery afoot with the game to ensure it looks as good as it does (and make no mistake, for a GBC game it's one of the best-looking around). And because it was developed late enough for the GameBoy Advance to be a factor, WayForward even went the extra mile of adding in extra content unlocked once the game was played on the GBA. Best of all, WayForward was able to get CAPCOM's help in distributing the title.
It's here where things get unfortunate; Shantae only saw a first-print run, so there were only about 250,000 copies of the game ever made. Being a game starring a genie girl in 2000, it was hard to convince people to try it out, even though people who actually played Shantae fell in love with it. And remember what I said about the GBA? Shantae was released almost a year after the GameBoy Advance was released; asking people to buy a game on an outdated console was a tall order. And it's a shame; the original Shantae looked great and was an amazing blend of genres: a Metroidvania before the term ever came into vogue, with fighting-game-like upgrades for Shantae's combat abilities and intricate minigames. There was also a fun dancing mechanic that allowed Shantae to reach hidden areas, each with their own unlockable combat ability. Goodness knows, it had issues: Shantae was a bit too ambitious, which was commendable but didn't make traveling between towns any more fun. Going from area to area was a marathon. Also, there was a very vital error in the game's script that confused players, sending them to the entirely opposite side of the map they needed to go to. Still: Shantae was a diamond in the rough, and for years fans bemoaned both its obscurity and the unlikeliness that it would ever get a sequel.
Eventually, WayForward was able to develop a sequel for the Nintendo DS's online storefront; while Shantae: Risky's Revenge didn't quite have much outreach at first, WayForward was able to stick out and port the sequel pretty much everywhere--which has been their modus operandi for every subsequent Shantae title. Eventually, Risky's Revenge's success opened the door to WayForward making the seminal Shantae and the Pirate's Curse. By this point, the game had become a renowned indie series, and WayForward made sure that every release was as polished as possible. Their method is deliberate, and one I appreciate: normally, WayForward focuses on releasing their games on one console, then focusing on newer ports on other consoles one at a time. Nowadays, the Shantae games are everywhere; every port is polished such that the experience is great no matter where you play it. Shantae herself went from a secret handshake among platformer fans to one of the most beloved indie darlings out there, such that people hoped that she'd be inducted into Smash Bros. Shantae has also seen a ton of love from other indie games. IntiCreates was able to feature her as a DLC character in Blaster Master 0, and both she and the eponymous Shovel Knight were slated to appear in Indivisible as DLC party members. I have it in good faith that both of them had all of their assets finished before Lab Zero Games collapsed following allegations against Lab Zero developer Mike Zaimont.
In the meantime, Shantae is doing great. Her games have all been well-received, they're an excuse for the half-Lebanese Christina Valenzuela to flex her musical muscle as Shantae herself, and the recent Shantae and the Seven Sirens even featured an intro sequence animated by Studio Trigger. WayForward is still making some beloved games with stunning 2D animation, most recently having collaborated on the Advance Wars: Re-Boot Camp collection. Matt Bozon is still around doing character art for WayForward; I hope he gets to make that Sigma Star Saga sequel someday. And if not, hey, here's hoping WayForward gets the nod and is allowed to make a Metroid game. In the meantime: Shantae is a darling of the indie-game world, and one of the happiest endings you could see in the gaming industry. If you should see the original Shantae on any storefront, definitely try it: you'll be glad you did. Until then: look forward to the original game releasing on PS4 and PS5 this June 2nd.
Pac-Man 99 To Be Delisted
We've had some fascinating experiments with Battle Royale-esque games on Nintendo. From Tetris 99 making 99 players compete and toss blocks at each other to Super Mario Bros. 35 making players stomp on each other to reach Bowser's castle, it was fun to see these classic titles twisted into a competitive format. And one among their number was Pac-Man 99, a similarly Battle-royale-ified take on the classic maze-running game. It's surprisingly involved; you can set up trains of ghosts to overwhelm other players with Jammer Pac-Mans that slow them down, and there are various powers you can use to either keep yourself alive or sabotage enemy players. And while the game was free-to-play, it featured tons of paid DLC for offline gameplay modes or skins--my favorite is the Dig Dug skin that makes the game play the dooty little Dig Dug song as your dude wanders the map.
Unfortunately, it seems like things aren't great for Pac-Man 99; earlier this week, we received word that it would be delisted this October 8th. There's plenty of time to buy the DLC packs on the Nintendo eShop, and if you've downloaded the title before it's delisted you'll be able to re-download it. But if you want the entire experience, you'll need to get that DLC now before the game is taken offline. Thankfully, there will be a way to play the game offline against the CPU... but many are bemoaning the loss of such a fun experience. Hopefully, we can get an update on Pac-Man 99 in the future.
Let's wrap up with some quick tidbits:
I think we can call it "done" here. It's been a week, and we could all use a rest. I'm hoping Spring shapes up for me on my end. I'm hoping you all are doing alright. Do me a favor and remember to keep in touch with your families, you'd be surprised how much having lunch with them on a Sunday can do for you. Be good to each other, I'll see you in seven.
This Week In Games! is written from idyllic Portland by Jean-Karlo Lemus. When not collaborating with AnimeNewsNetwork, Jean-Karlo can be found playing JRPGs, eating popcorn, watching v-tubers and tokusatsu, and trying as hard as he can to be as inconspicuous as possible on his Twitter @mouse_inhouse.
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