Rundown (4/04-4/10) Press-Switch is Back… Again!

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Wherein I discuss P-S Gaiden, the return of the tradeshow of legend, Pac-Man Battle Royale #3, a pleasant port, a potential port, Sony’s obsessions, and my probable GOTY 2021.

This past week, following an announcement that a new update was coming soon, Skiegh released yet another installment in his TSF/TG/TF visual novel Press-Switch, in the form of a spin-off that offered a side story based around an in-universe board game, known as Illia’s Mansion. It’s a standalone release, not particularly long at only 46k words of dialogue, but it is still another Press-Switch release and, after having played it, I can say that I thought it was quite good, and I will try to get a review out by April 14th. Actually, the review is dropping on April 12th. Because when I’m not working my accounting job, I can bang out a review in a single day.

In the meantime, play it for yourself… assuming you are familiar with Press-Switch versions 0.3b, 0.4a, and 0.5c. But if you haven’t played all of these… then Illia’s Mansion will probably confuse the crap out of you. 

Back in February, I was pessimistic about the idea of E3 2021 happening in any form, let alone as a digital-only event. While I love the fervor and boyish lust of E3, I ultimately think that the industry has evolved past the need for major marketing festivals. Trade shows do have a purpose, but that is mostly so professionals can meet up, hash out deals, and make things happen in a physical setting, because sometimes the only way to grab some executive’s attention is to make an elevator pitch, or invite them out to dinner, and that’s tricky to pull if you’re on opposite sides of the country… or planet.

Anyway, with Nintendo Directs and their ilk, developers and publishers have myriad manners of getting the word out on their games, and I do not think the industry needs three days of nonstop information. However, E3 2021 is happening as a digital-only event, and it will be held from June 12 to June 15.

Participants include the likes of Nintendo, Microsoft, Ubisoft, Capcom, Konami, Take-Two, Warner Bros, and Koch Media, though the absentees might be more noteworthy. Sony, EA, Activision, Sega, Bandai Namco, and Square Enix have all yet to sign up for this event, and while they could still do so, it’s also plausible that they will pursue other ways of announcing their products. Such as putting out trailers on their channels and social media, releasing press releases, or holding live-streamed announcements announced a day in advance. It’s definitely cheaper than paying a supposed six figures to be part of this event.

Also, they’re apparently changing what E3 stands for this year. So instead of Electronic Entertainment Expo, it is the Electronic Entertainment Experience. It’s not an inaccurate description, but it does remind me of how the ESA (the folks who run E3) has been trying to make E3 more of a social event for viewers at home, as best demonstrated by their initial plans for the canceled E3 2020. …Looking over those again, now I really wish that E3 was dead… but I’ll still watch it, I’ll still enjoy it, and I’ll still report on it, like the stank-ass pseudo-journalist that I pretend to be when it suits me.

Nintendo delisted Super Mario 3D All-Stars and Super Mario Bros. 35 last week, and… yeah, I’m still pissed at Nintendo for this artificial scarcity bullshit. Nintendo is a producer of art, they make things that enrich people’s lives, and they have a responsibility to preserve their legacy, or at least allow others to do so on their behalf. But they don’t. They put out a slapdash remaster of two of their most beloved games, and Super Mario Sunshine, and now it is delisted digitally, because it made their income statement look nicer. 

But this is not a truly massive loss. 3D All-Stars sold 8.32 million by the end of 2020, so it’s far from a rare game. You can still buy physical copies from most major retailers. There are ROMs floating around. And with the power of Dolphin and the reverse-engineered PC port of Super Mario 64, you can definitely play better versions of these three games. Especially Mario 64. I don’t believe in calling devs lazy, but… what the hell was that? One of the most influential games of all time, and you couldn’t make it run in widescreen? 

Anyways, the purpose of this intro segment was to lead into how Nintendo swapped out Super Mario Bros. 35 with another Nintendo Switch Online exclusive multiplayer battle royale game in the form of Pac-Man 99

As expected, the game involves 99 players partaking in a traditional game of Pac-Man, while sending and receiving hazards from other players. Eat ghosts to send Jammer Pac-Men to other player’s sessions, which slows their Pac-Man’s movement speed. Eat the greyed-out sleeping ghosts to cause ghosts to develop a trail, and eat the ghosts with ghostly trails to send a swarm of Jammer Pac-Men to other players. 

It is a bit of an odd concept to wrap one’s head around, and honestly strikes me as Bandai Namco taking the core concept of Tetris 99 and applying it to Pac-Man, while incorporating the ‘consume a trail of ghosts’ schtick from Pac-Man Championship Edition DX. While this still looks like a fun or novel concept, this trailer made me wonder just what else the developers could have done with a Pac-Man battle royale game. Or more specifically, it reminded me of what they have done in the past.

Pac-Man Battle Royale was a 2011 arcade game that had four players battling it out in shifting arenas as their own Pac-Men, with the goal of gobbling both ghosts and other players to be the last one standing. From what I heard, it made for some intense multiplayer matches back when people could readily play it, and it certainly sounds like a nifty concept. Pac-Man Battle Royale made its way to Pac-Man Museum for PS3, Xbox 360, and Steam in 2014. But Pac-Man Museum was delisted on July 20, 2020. Presumably for the sake of branding and better selling future titles that offered less value.

Then last November, the Stadia exclusive 64-player game, Pac-Man Mega Tunnel Battle, came out and… was a lot more like what I would imagine from a Pac-Man battle royale. 64 Pac-Men going through various mazes and gobbling each other up. Except I do not think people really played it because, well, it’s on Stadia. 

…Wait, so within the span of a year, a Pac-Man competitive multiplayer game was delisted and two more were released… that’s most bizarre.

Speaking of bizarre, let’s talk about Thunderful Group. Thunderful is a Swedish holding company that formed back in 2017 and has acquired or otherwise merged with an assortment of independent developers, the niche localizer and publisher Rising Star Games, and Bergsala, the company that has been handling the Scandinavian distribution of Nintendo games and hardware since 1981. They are definitely a rising all-star of sorts in the games industry and look like they will steadily fill in the AA sector of the industry over the ensuing decade as they amass more staff and release more high-quality games.

But the reason why I’m talking about them today is that Thunderful recently put out their 2020 annual report, where they named a bunch of new games currently in the midst of production, including another four SteamWorld titles, but they also put Deadly Premonition 2: A Blessing in Disguise for PC as one of their upcoming titles. Meaning that the infamously poorly performing title will be brought to more scalable hardware and people will hopefully be able to see the game’s world at a crisp and steady 60 fps… unless the PC port is broken like the first game.

If it does run better, then I suppose I’ll double dip and finally see what Deadly Premonition 2 has to offer. I can tell it is not as endearing as the first title, and it has some problematic content, but the heart still seems to be in the right place, and I just want to satiate my curiosity at this point.

There are a lot of reasons to dislike or be angry at Sony as a game publisher, simply because of things they did this past year. They more or less shut down Japan Studios because their games lacked a global appeal. They showed the most flagrant disregard for their legacy that I have ever seen from any platform holder or publisher. And they have firmly established themselves as a company that truly does not care about anything other than pushing the next big game, distributing blockbusters, and keeping people locked into the PlayStation ecosystem. I don’t like how they are doing things and, after reading yet another insider exposé by Jason Schrier of Bloomberg, I just have more reason to look at them with scorn. 

The article primarily covered two stories, the first one centering around the long-standing Bend Studios. Following the completion of 2019’s Days Gone, Bend Studios was denied the opportunity to make a sequel to their game, despite it proving profitable. Sony was seemingly not happy with the development time or critical reception of the title and instead put Bend on two projects that were headed by Naughty Dog. An undisclosed multiplayer title and a new Uncharted game. As work on these projects progressed, many team members worried that this was a way of covertly turning Bend Studios into another branch of Naughty Dog by having them work on the same title. And once these concerns were voiced, Bend was taken off the project and tasked with creating their own original new blockbuster IP.

The other, and more notable story, centers around a small team within Visual Arts Service Group, a support studio for first-party PlayStation developers. A group of people, led by Michael Mumbauer, decided they wanted more creative control and began pitching projects to Sony, but Sony’s risk-averse management did not want to approve anything by an unproven team. So Mumbauer’s team began pitching remakes of older Sony titles for PlayStation 5, and were to work on a remake of 2013’s The Last of Us… which was already remastered, runs at 1080p and 60fps, and looks damn good despite its age, so I don’t know who would even want a remake.

Sony approved this remake, but did not afford this team the resources or staff needed to handle a project of this scale, and management was not satisfied with how the project was going. After the project was shelved so staff could polish off The Last of Us Part II, development on the remake resumed, but this time Mumbauer’s team served as a support studio next to a small team from Naughty Dog who, due to their experience with The Last of Us, took creative control of the project. As this arrangement went on, Mumbauer’s team gradually realized that this arrangement was not what they wanted, and they gradually began leaving Sony entirely, effectively handing over their The Last of Us remake to Naughty Dog.

The simple fact that Sony is so reluctant to greenlight projects and allow teams to pursue their own creative ambitions is disheartening. The fact that the only thing they would approve is a remake (the language is vague and could refer to a remaster) of a 2013 game that has already been remastered is… absurd. And this obsession with only putting out hits is something only an idiot does. In no industry, in no field, is it ever a wise idea to invest in only one type of product, in only doing one thing well. Because if what you are doing goes out of style or is no longer profitable, then you’re screwed. 

Yes, I’m sure that Sony has facts, figures, and myriad analysis supporting their decision, but I do not trust their data. Because I know that, even if you have a niche product, if you market it right, and sell it to the correct audience, then it can be a success. Maybe not as big of a success as a major blockbuster, but it helps diversify your portfolio, and if a small game goes big then… well, your profit margins will look a lot nicer. But instead of doing this, and taking some risks with smaller projects, like a smart company, they are putting all their eggs in one basket, under the assumption that it will never break, and will always be the most profitable investment.

At the very least, Sony could hire developers to polish up and remaster their older backlog, the backlog they are going to execute in a matter of months. But no, they do not see value in games that are over 7 years old, and if they are going to bring something back, then it needs a full remake… Unless it is Parappa the Rapper, in which case they are fine with emulating the PSP version of the game, but with updated textures.

Thankfully, not every publisher thinks the same way as Sony, and are actually reaching into their backlog for older titles they can remaster. Such as Sega, who, based on a German voiceover studio’s portfolio, is doing a remaster of the 2010 Wii title, Sonic Colors. This has been rumored for a while, and I’m honestly surprised Sega did not try putting this game out during some of the more recent lulls in Sonic releases. Because while I did not enjoy Sonic Colors for myriad reasons, it was a well received title by fans and critics and looks beautiful when upscaled to HD resolutions.

While this is not a confirmation, it was shortly followed by a retailer listing, and seems incredibly plausible. Sega is not above remastering titles like this, and I have definitely seen people pining for an HD remaster of this game. And assuming this announcement is imminent, and possibly part of Sega’s plan to celebrate Sonic’s 30 anniversary, I would find it odd if this was the only remaster they have in the pipeline. Because while the Sonic series has thrived on PC with ports, there are a few stragglers that I would love to see get a remaster treatment. Sonic Unleashed looks wonderful at higher resolutions and at higher frame rates, and while I will bash Sonic Heroes for being buggy and lopsided, I think that makes it a prime candidate for the polish and refinement that fans should expect from a remaster.

I would also like to see a remaster of Shadow The Hedgehog, but mostly because I want to see more people get disappointed by how not-edgy the game actually is. Not because I think the game is any good as… it really isn’t. Some levels are good, but as a whole, its mechanics are flawed, and its story is pretty nonsensical. And while Sonic The Hedgehog (2006) is infamously bad, I would still love to see it come to PC and modern systems. More people need to play that game, instead of just bashing it out of reputation or clips! Also, I know some insane modders would try to fix the game if it came to PC. Hell, they already are with various projects that aim to bring Sonic The Hedgehog (2006) to PC.

To close off this week on a positive note, a new trailer dropped for NEO: The World Ends With You, and… it confirmed that the game is pretty much everything I hoped it was going to be.

The character designs are all amazing. The character art is wonderfully expressive. I like what I’ve seen of all the characters’ personalities. The English dub is… pretty much what I want from an English dub of anything. The soundtrack slaps HARD. The menu design is stylish, yet not overbearing. You can still dress up your pretty boys in (non-cosmetic) maid outfits. The garbled “Are you ready” that plays at the beginning of battles was carried over from the first game. The harsh black shadows, cel-shading, and impossible proportion buildings all continue to look incredible. And the story does appear to be a direct sequel to the first one, despite clearly being its own thing as well. 

But the biggest takeaway from this announcement is the release date, as NEO TWEWY is set to release on July 27th for PS4 and Switch, and will also come to PC via the Epic Games Store sometime this summer. While I am stoked to see the game coming to my platform of choice, I’m probably going to pick up the Switch version and double dip later on. Mostly because if I play this game, I want to do so at launch, and I will push everything aside to make it happen!

On that note, I need to get back to writing a review… and re-editing my fourth novel. Until next time, see ya!

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