Rundown (6/07-6/13) Ersatz Electronic Excitement

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Wherein I discuss the return of the forgotten monkey boy, beautiful tactical robot action, Sony’s super special PS5 event, and The Golden.

Over the past few months and following the cancelation of all conventions for the summer of 2020, various companies have been announcing plans to substitute the likes of E3 and Gamescom through their own digital events, either hosted by a website or by publishers themselves. Originally, a lot of the events that were pushed this week were intended to be held last week, but due to the protests, riots, and so forth happening across America, everything got delayed to this week, which coincidentally was originally going to be the week of E3 2020.

Things kicked off with IGN’s Summer of Gaming event, a prolonged live stream event that could be seen as a modified version of the presence the outlet has adopted at E3 over the past few years, mixing in developer interviews with game reveals and showcases of all shapes and sizes to shine a broad light on the industry. I like this presentation in regards to exposure, as it really is the most important thing for just about any game or product, but by being so broad and steady in its pacing, it simply lacks the same retention or draws that is usually seen in your typical media conference. That, and they only had two games this week that I really cared about.

First on the itinerary, you know how Sega has been licensing out their IP to various publishers and developers who revived them and did a really good job, putting out games like Wonder Boy: The Dragon’s Trap, Monster Boy and the Cursed Kingdom, and Streets of Rage 4? Well, the next IP on the proverbial chopping block is none other than their original mascot, Alex Kidd in the form of Alex Kidd in Miracle World DX. A full recreation of the seminal 1986 Master System classic, Alex Kidd in Miracle World, but with a widescreen display, sprite art so fluid that I initially mistook it as being hand-drawn, new levels, boss battles that are not dependent on RNG, and a new musical score.

Overall, it looks to be a loving and faithful recreation and enhancement of a classic title, not dissimilar to Lizardcube’s remake of The Dragon’s Trap, which makes it none too surprising to learn that this game started its life as a fan project conducted by two passionate Spanish fans, Hector “Narehop” Toro and José “Josyanf1” Sanz, who first revealed this project’s existence back in 2018, as detailed in an interview with A Certain Kind of Gamer. Since then, the project has been christened as an official by Sega, is set to be published by Merge Games, who previously released Streets of Rage 4. Alex Kidd in Miracle World DX is set to release for the usual assortment of PS4, Xbox One, Switch, and PC in Q1 2021.

13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim is a game that has been in the background for the majority of this generation, having been first shown off back in 2015, been announced for the west back in 2017, and finally released to Japanese audiences in November 2019. Since that release, its international publisher, Atlus, has been very quiet on the project and has only recently unveiled that the title is finally coming to the west on September 8, 2020, on Playstation 4. It was certainly a long wait to finally get here, and I think it is a good time to review just what the heck this game is supposed to be.

For those unfamiliar with the title, 13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim is a story-driven sci-fi mystery set in the 1980s about a group of Japanese teenagers from various walks of life who are called to defend the world from kaiju by piloting mechas. As actualized through a mixture of adventure game problem solving, a lot of characters switching and branching narratives, and trippy menu-driven tactical combat that I don’t think I will fully understand until I see English gameplay of it. All of which is a stake difference compared to the 2D action RPGs Vanillaware is best known for, as this is clearly putting the story before the gameplay, but continuing to put the presentational values above everything else.

Vanillaware’s games are some of the most gobsmackingly beautiful titles I have ever laid my eyes on, and hot damn do I love everything they are doing with the art direction of this game. The detailed shading that gives each character a distinct texture, the lighting effects that drench the characters in shadow amidst a sunset, and even the idle stances of its large cast. It just makes me hope that this game was coming to PC. Because I like beautiful story-driven games, and this is a top tier contender in at least one of those categories.

After what has been a very staggered and roundabout way of revealing and detailing the Playstation 5, Sony finally offered a proper reveal of the Playstation 5 beyond technical details, a logo, and its new controller specifications, but rather than open the conference with the new system front and center, they instead chose to frontload the conference by announcing and showing off games that will be coming to PS5… and other systems.

One of the major shortcomings of doing showcases and presenting games as exclusives in this day and age is that just about every title is or has the potential to be ported over to another system. While Sony’s first-party titles used to be an exception, that really is not the case anymore, as they are bringing over Horizon: Zero Dawn to Steam, and there are supposed plans to do the same with much of their catalog. Here, while they said that a lot of games are PS5 titles, many of them are actually only console exclusives, timed exclusives, or are simply likely to receive a PC port after launching on PS5. It is very confusing to keep track of all of this information and may necessitate the use of an infographic to keep everything straight, but that’s how video game releases went at the cusp of the last generation, and why would Generation 9 be any different?

Anyways, preamble aside, I will naturally not be going over everything seen in this showcase, but before going through the titles I do have something to say about, here are some of the big announcements that at least warrant a mention.

  • It was strange how Grand Theft Auto V kicked off this event when that is a game from 2013, and the promotional information tied to its announced PS5 re-remaster was out-of-place for an event like this. Especially as the headliner.
  • Gran Turismo 7 is a game where players can drive around in a realistic car with realistic graphics when it comes out in 2021.
  • Godfall was given a gameplay trailer after being announced during The Game Awards 2019, and it looks like a fantasy-themed action game running in the Unreal engine. Solid, but unremarkable.
  • Astro’s Playroom looks like a fantastic Mario-esque 3D platformer flushed with creativity and cuteness, but the fact that it is a free title that comes preloaded on every PS5 implies that the game will merely be a taste of what a full-length title could be.

The first game I want to talk about in detail is Spider-Man: Miles Morales, which was announced with a CG trailer that little meaningful information could be gathered from before this new title was pegged to come out in holiday 2020. This begged the question of what this game would be, with initial reports describing it as a sequel to Marvel’s Spider-Man (2018) before Telegraph reported that the title was “an expansion bolted on to an upgraded version of the original title.” This was later disproven by stories going around about how Spider-Man: Miles Morales is actually a standalone-expansion side-story comparable to something like Uncharted: The Lost Legacy. This is why you need to clearly state what your game is supposed to be when you announce it. Otherwise, you have this torrent of misinformation fluttering about, which only goes to delude people’s excitement, as they don’t know what exactly they should be getting excited over.

Something I always look for when talking about next gen titles is something that very clearly could not be done on older hardware and pushes the technological envelope, and I strangely think this comes in the form of Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart. A title that boasts a tour de force of technical trickery with vibrant colorful locales, detailed lighting, expressive enemies and NPCs, oodles of particle effects, and dimension-hopping gameplay that allows the title to load in entirely new environments in something like 2-3 seconds due to the power of the Playstation 5’s super-duper SSD. What’s more, the title still looks to be a frantic and zany platformer third-person shooter, and is pushing the alternate character angle by reprising the whole Ratchet and Clank are separated shtick again, while introducing a new playable rodent waifu.

After cutting ties with Hajime Tabata, and presumably many of those who worked closely with him, I assumed that the Square Enix subsidiary Luminous Productions would be folded back into the main studio, or serve as some sort of support team. Instead, they are still setting off to do what they were designed for, creating new AAA IPs for Square Enix and developing the in-house Luminous engine seen in Final Fantasy XV. Even though Square Enix has proven they can still achieve amazing production values using an engine like Unreal.

Anyways, their first true title was announced as Project Athia, a game that, based on the 10 seconds of disassociated gameplay footage seen in the 79-second trailer, is a prestige-style action RPG about a lady with magic powers and enhanced strength traveling through a fantastical world full of monsters. It certainly looks nice, and I will naturally keep an eye on this title as its creators’ vision becomes more clear and pronounced, but there is not much to chew on with this one. Probably because it was announced too darn early like most Square Enix titles tend to be. Also, despite the trailer implying this being a PS5 exclusive, the official press release confirms that it is for both PS5 and PC.

Next on the itinerary is Returnal, a sci-fi third-person shooter about an older woman who finds herself stuck in a cycle of trauma, combat, and death after crashing on an alien planet, repeating the same events over and over again. All as both the world around her shifts based on her memories of life and her own psychological state crumbles. It’s an intriguing concept helped by some colorful otherworldly locales and less stringent or claustrophobic gameplay than you typically see from western developed third-person shooters. The title also curiously comes from long-standing Sony third party partner Housemarque, who is probably best known as the developers of downloadable arcade-style sci-fi shooting games like Resogun and Nex Machina, meaning that Returnal represents a significant step forward for them as a developer, moving to a AAA, or at least AA, production.

Considering how Crackdown 3, Sonic Team Racing, and Dead Island 2 all turned out, I’ve been under the impression that things are not going swimmingly at Sumo Digital, but that has not stopped Sony from hitting them up for another installment in the LittleBigPlanet series. This latest title, curiously named Sackboy A Big Adventure, represents the series making its bold leap to the third dimension, and… it actually looks really good.

The title is very likely inspired by Super Mario 3D World, as it is a multiplayer 3D platformer that supports up to four players and features a similar fixed camera perspective. However, it also features the same mechanical variety that one would come to expect from LittleBigPlanet, incorporating shooting, grappling, jetpacking, and other situational gimmicks built on the base of punching and jumping. It looks like a grand little time, but what made me ooh and aah was the visuals. I am a gosh darn sucker for games that look like arts and crafts projects come to life, and this is quite possibly the best looking felt to ever be included in a video game.

Kena: Bridge of Spirits is a fantastical Zelda-like action-adventure affair about a young woman traveling through a lush forested world to fend off some burgeoning malicious force with the aid of her magic stick and a collection of little black fuzzy creatures. The former of which helps the titular Kena as she battles against various baddies, and the latter helps her solve puzzles. It all looks like a promising and visually impressive title, though I cannot help but edge on the side of caution due to how this is the first title coming from Ember Lab. A studio that has previously done a lot of commercial work and created the 2016 Zelda tribute Majora’s Mask – Terrible Fate, but they never shipped a game. However, players will be able to judge this game for themselves relatively soon, as it is set to launch in holiday 2020 for PS4, PS5, and Epic Games Store.

Goodbye Volcano High is a teenage coming of age love story about a bunch of anthropomorphized dinosaurs with 3D animation that looks like 2D animation through what I can only classify as witchcraft. It’s definitely not the sort of thing I would expect to see in a major press event outside of an indie sizzle reel, but it is something that I could see myself checking out. I mean, between my reviews of tangentially similar games like Angels with Scaly Wings, Life is Strange, and Night in the Woods, that much should not be too surprising. However, the developers behind this title, KOO_OP, seem to have a very romanticized idea of what being a teenager is like, and that’s something I bear a strong distaste for.

Teenagers have a habit of exaggerating their emotions, the circumstances they’ve been put into, and the severity of events that change their day to day life, and these characters strike me as a textbook example. From what I could glean from the official website and the debut trailer, the characters are incredibly self-absorbed and narrow-minded, unable to envision life beyond high school and feeling that they need to do all their living in the final months before it all ends. Before they need to grow up, they need to change, they need to be adults. When that is not how growing up works in the western world in the 21st century.

Having this message shoved down my throat was among the most irritating things I had to deal with in my time as a teenager, and I absolutely cannot stand to see this message echoed, because it is a lie. It is anxiety-inducing. It has caused so many people so much pain and for no good reason. And it sucks that this is what the game is about because I do genuinely want to play a video game where the protagonist is a gosh darn non-binary anthropomorphic dinosaur with angel wings. That’s cool! …Oh, and Goodbye Volcano High is coming out on PS4, PS5, and Steam in 2021.

Following its vague teaser trailer from E3 2019, I assumed that Tango Gameworks’ Ghostwire: Tokyo was going to be similar to The Evil Within, as in it would be a survival horror stealth action game, but that sure isn’t what the game turned out to be. Ghostwire: Tokyo is actually a first-person shooter about fighting spirits based on all flavors of Japanese mythology with the use of magical spells, and while it is a bit hard to tell from the way the trailer is cut, combat looks to be fast, hectic, and overall stylish, in a manner that is at least somewhat reminiscent of the modern Doom titles. However, this style is far from contained to the combat alone, as the game boasts striking enemy designs, a vibrant yet cold rendition of modern Tokyo, and a deluge of trippy particle effects. Overall, it looks quite nice and is set to release as a timed PS5 console exclusive and on PC in 2021.

Bugsnax is a game about hunting for bizarre yet adorable creatures whose bodies are a mashup between both insects and common food products ranging from strawberries to hamburgers to ice cream. Which, on its own, sounds like a cute yet silly idea for a game that could be home to a great number of gags and situations, but that is only the primary mechanic of this game. The secondary mechanic is taking the bugs you catch and feeding them to your villagers who resemble plush creatures that a corporation would market to small children. Feeding the Bugsnax to these villages causes their bodies to transform, with their arms, legs, torsos, and heads all morphing based on what you feed them, allowing the player to take a villager and replace their limbs with scoops of ice cream and accompanying cones.

Now, I am deeply at odds with this game based on what was shown in the trailer. On the first hand, it is a super hecking cute game about chilling out in a pretty place and playing with wackadoo animals, and I like that. On the second hand, the idea of feeding and transforming creatures against their will like this is so deeply messed up and disturbing that I cannot help but like it. On the third hand, I know this is somebody’s fetish, that this game will, regardless of the creators’ intentions, cater to them, and I love knowing that. But on the fourth hand, I do not like the execution of most of what this game is trying to do.

I do not like how the villagers look. I think the transformations all look pretty bad. And I do not want to deal with these wretched creatures in my monster collecting journey. Please go back, edit your game, and replace these plush demons with regular humans. Because it is sexier when you are transforming humans into godless abominations rather than turning one godless abomination into a different godless abomination. Anyways, the game is due out for PS4, PS5, and PC this holiday season.

After what has felt like over a year of rumors at this point, it was finally revealed that Bluepoint Games, the developers behind the 2018 remake of Shadow of the Colossus and several high-quality HD remasters, is remaking FromSoftware’s seminal 2009 classic, Demon’s Souls. This is wonderful news, as for all the acclaim and love the Souls series has accumulated since the smash success of the first Dark Souls, Demon’s Souls has always been something of the odd one out. Not necessarily because of its quality, but rather due to how rare physical copies of it first came out, how many people immediately bounced off it, how it was a PS3 exclusive, and how the title had problems born from a mid-development pivot and the fact that the developers had never made a game quite like this before.

Now, how does this remake look? Well, the trailer was mostly in-engine footage, no proper gameplay, but it does look gorgeous, clearly flaunting the power of next gen hardware, while striving to revise and update the look of the original. What was once a grungy and dirty looking game with simplistic character designs now features vastly more detail, and what was once a dreary and dark series of locales have been replaced by ones thriving with more life and detail. I am sure that these changes (in addition to literally every other change) will be objected to by one subset of fans or another, but I’m looking forward to both this game and its inevitable PC release after it launches for PS5.

Also, and this is a personal nitpick, but I kind of wish they changed the name to Demon Souls for this remake, as Demon’s Souls is not a very phonetically pleasing string of words, as it is two hard ‘S’ sounds back to back.

Going back to games that have not been shown for a year, give or take a few days, Arkane’s latest title, Deathloop, was given a detailed story summary and gameplay trailer. One that nicely establishes what the game is about and what it is like to play better and more stylishly than any other game shown during this event. The central goal of the game is the assassination of eight targets keeping the protagonist Colt trapped on the mysterious island of Black Reef, perpetually trapped in a time loop that resets every time he dies. Which would be a daunting task in and of itself, but he also needs to contend with hundreds of others willing to kill him on sight, and a persistent assassin by the name of Juliana Blake, who appears to be the element of chaos in a game about learning the right patterns through repeated failures.

All of which is clearly built on the foundation of Arkane’s prior work, being a first-person shooter with numerous stealth options and incentives where the player’s primary tools are both firearms and various magical powers that aid them in both mobility and exterminating enemies. It is a cool concept, though I need to ask how the whole time loop mechanic will affect the save system, and whether or not save scumming will be possible, and just how long or freeform the game will be considering there are 8 different targets. But for now, it is a game with a novel idea, a cool art direction with a heavy emphasis on oranges and reds, and both a black protagonist and a black antagonist, which you rarely ever see. Not unlike Ghostwire: Tokyo, another Bethesda published title, Deathloop is also set to debut both on PC and as a timed console exclusive for the PS5 sometime during holiday 2020.

Moving to another title that was spoiled through persistent leaks is Resident Evil 8: Village, and just about all the details shared by the likes of VGC and Dusk Golem seem to check out. The game is another first-person title following RE7 protagonist Ethan as he finds himself in a rural European village as it is beset by creatures with a more supernatural flare to them. Boulder punching super pilot Chris Redfield returns, but not necessarily as an ally. The shot composition, musical cues, and imagery all give credence to the game being a more psychological affair. And it all looks great visually too, with the RE Engine gracefully adapting to the specifications of new hardware. Here’s hoping for the best when it comes out in 2021.

Pragmata is the first new Capcom IP announced in what feels like a solid decade, and while I have no clue what kind of game it will be, it looks like one of the most Hideo Kojima-esque things to not involve Hideo Kojima. The trailer begins with an astronaut in a bulky suit traversing through a modern cityscape devoid of people, where they used a scanner and small particles released in the air to find a small girl with long blonde hair, chilling out in the street with a holographic cat that is actually a robot. Once the two reconvene, they look up into the sky to see it flickering and that the cityscape before them has been twisted and malformed. Then a satellite crashes through the outer shell that was the sky, sending the pair floating upwards away from this space station and into space before returning to the moon, where the little girl reveals herself to be an android of sorts who looks out at the Earth from afar and asks what that is. To which the man says that it is freedom. Their freedom.

I have no idea what this trailer is trying to establish, and Capcom has announced that details on this project, which is set to release in 2022 for PS5, Xbox Series X, and PC, will not be shared until 2021. Which begs the question of why you bothered announcing it this early. Maybe it was just to avoid any leaks. *Shrugs*

The final game of this event was the much-expected sequel to 2017’s Horizon: Zero Dawn, dubbed Horizon: Forbidden West. While much of the discussion of the story flies over my head, as I never played the initial entry, the trailer still offered a wonderful look at both gameplay and in-engine footage, showing off a number of diverse biomes to be found in this game, between lush underwater ruins, sprawling deserts, imposing snow drenched mountains, and your typical forestry. All of which are filled with both sights of splendor such as holographic dragons and robot crocodiles.

It is all exceedingly graphically impressive, boasting details that I personally consider to be beyond excessive, but do demonstrate the power that this new system will hold, and help emphasize the generational leap a bit better than it might otherwise. Though, I do wish that some gameplay, and possibly a release window, were given considering how this title has been murmured to be one of the marquee system sellers for the first year of the PS5’s lifecycle.

For all the information that has been offered regarding the PS5, Sony has been reluctant to actually show the system itself, which they did at the very end of this event and… it looks like a wireless router. The system is a thin tall black rectangle with two white chunks of semi-circular white plastic on both ends, giving the system a sleek, curved, and vaguely futuristic look as enhanced by a blue light separating the black and white of the system. Personally, I don’t really like this thing. I like my computers and consoles to be simple single-color boxes, and while I get the sci-fi look they were going with here, I cannot help but wonder what the system would look like if the edges were trimmed down or it was all a single uniform color.

However, rather than just show off the design of this system, Sony also took this opportunity to reveal the Playstation 5 Digital Edition. A version of the system that forgoes the disc drive entirely in favor of a slimmer form factor and what I assume to be a far lower price. After the release of the Xbox One S All-Digital Edition in 2019, I am not too surprised by this, though I have to question how Sony plans on releasing this alternate version of their system.

If the system were released with the base model, then it would likely cause confusion from uninformed consumers who buy the wrong model, and with console launches historically resulting in shortages, it is entirely possible that buyers who want a PS5 will need to choose between waiting for the system or compromising and buying a digital edition because it is all the store had.

Regardless, this is the Playstation 5, and while I am not stoked on the design now, I will eventually get used to it after seeing it a couple thousand times. It’s like how I became numb to what I originally thought to be stupid names for game systems like the Wii, Xbox One, and Playstation Vita. Give it enough time, these systems’ names just rolled off the tongue, and given enough time, the design of the PS5 will become iconic.

As a whole, I thought this was a nice showcase, offering people a look at a variety of games with unique art directions, spanning various genres, and coming from developers of all sizes. There are plenty of titles to be excited about, and while I would have liked to see more gameplay previews and the like, at least they did not bore audiences with tech demos that do not represent what games on this system will actually look like. I think the PS5 is in a good place to launch, boasting a to-be-detailed back catalog of backwards compatible games that players can enjoy with improved frame rates and resolutions, and sporting a lot of cool-looking titles in its first-year lineup.

None of which I could say about the PS4, or the Xbox One, during their comparatively poopy reveals. Which were preceded with insane controversies that bordered on a consumer rights violation and represented a complete technological reset that locked the vast libraries game-likers developed to aging hardware. It was so bad that I abandoned the console space in the summer of 2013, built my first PC, switched from Mac to Windows, and started building a persistent library of games that I have been playing and chronicling on this very website.

In retrospect, this was a really wonderful decision for me. I became more computer savvy now that I was no longer using an operating system for boomers and babies, and I was exposed to such a greater variety of games than I ever would be if I stuck with the console scene. My personal skills and tastes both changed and grew in a way that I consider to be overwhelmingly positive. Because of this, I really am not all too interested in the latest Xbox or Playstation even if they have the coolest games and best graphics, because I know that just about all of those things will come to PC.

This is something that was not so true in prior generations, but over the lifespan of the PS4 and Xbox One, just about everything that I would want to come to PC (excluding Nintendo games) has come to PC, or will come to PC. Sony is bringing Horizon Zero Dawn, and likely many other games, to Steam starting later this summer. Microsoft has been releasing all their titles on PC for years. And Japanese games have exploded on the platform, with series like Neptunia, Yakuza, Final Fantasy, and Danganronpa all finding rousing success on the platform, while older titles like Chrono Trigger, Katamari Damacy, and goldarn Little King’s Story have received quality ports.

I don’t mean to pivot from talking about a new console to gushing about how wonderful and brilliant the PC platform is. But it’s something that I have inextricably linked to the start of the prior generation, and when thinking about new consoles, weighing if I want to switch to a new ecosystem and spend hundreds of dollars on a new game playing box after buying a Switch in 2018, this is where my mind wanders. Though, it also doubles as a nice transition into PC Gamer’s annual PC Gaming Show! Which I could not be bothered to actually watch, and there was only one announcement that I really cared about… but it was one hell of an announcement.

In what was a shocking surprise (or at least it would have been if it hadn’t leaked a few days prior) is was announced that Persona 4 Golden is now available on PC via Steam. I played and reviewed, the game about 6 years ago, and while my memories of it are a bit more mixed than most due to my completionist tendencies, I still adored the game for its characters, world, music, and style, and will more than happily check it out once more for the exceedingly reasonable price of $20 for a 100+ hour-long adventure.

However, more than just being a quality game hitting the PC platform, this also represents a turning point where Atlus, likely due to insistence from Sega and various surveys, is finally taking PC gaming seriously. They dabbled their toes by releasing Catherine Classic at what was probably the worst possible time (right before the Japanese release of Catherine: Full Body and the ensuing controversy around it), but now, I think they’re going to see the money coming in and understand just how thirsty players have been for Persona on PC. Here’s hoping that this is the first of many ports of older Atlus games and that newer titles will receive a similar treatment going forward.

Oh, and Story of Seasons, the series published in the west as Harvest Moon from 1996 through 2013, is also making its PC debut with Story of Seasons: Friends of Mineral Town on July 14th. Which is, as is the case with all PC ports, great to hear. The game still looks pretty underwhelming, but now you can enjoy your simplistic chibi graphics in glorious 4K!

That covers it for this week, but I’m sure that more news will trickle out in the upcoming days and weeks, as E3 may be canceled, but E3 as a concept has only been extended and prolonged.

Header image comes from Sankaku Renai: Love Triangle Trouble. Because even though this is not a true E3 rundown, I’m still going to uphold this stupid longstanding tradition of mine where I use chibi eroge CGs as header images for all my E3 Rundowns. Because why not?

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