Rundown (5/07/2023) The Mice Are Nice

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This Week’s Topics:

  • Pre-Review musings of Mice Tea
  • Double Dragon’s latest revival
  • A poorly named corporate consolidation
  • A chopping of creative companions
  • Musings about Genshin IN SPACE!
  • The introduction of Cassie’s Corner 

Rundown Preamble Ramble:
Mice Tea Update and Fetish Tangent

I spent this past week in a pretty predictable fashion. Working, studying to become an enrolled agent, and playing through Mice Tea. The first two are boring, so let’s talk about the third one. Mice Tea is a title that has been on my radar for a while, but what prevented me from getting into it was how I felt that it really wasn’t for people like me. 

However, after going through the Felicia route in July 2022— the sole TSF route— I thought that I was wrong, and that there was plenty of TSF in this title. But now, having gone through all four routes and in the midst of writing my review, I realized that… no, there are a lot of things in this game I am not familiar with. Size-play, hypnosis, and oodles of kinks. This is not really a problem, but it leaves me conflicted for two reasons. One, I’m still reconciling on how I should discuss/review these concepts, as I am out of my element with a lot of this stuff. Two, there is a lot of ‘weird’ in Mice Tea, but it never gets fucking weird, which I think I have a better handle on.

Rather than being ravenous and wild, not caring if anybody is into something, it is clearly catering to specific fetishes, kinks, and established dynamics. It does not do things because they are cool, but rather because they are sexy. Which is not quite what I was expecting… and now that I wanted. 

You might ask what I wanted, and… my answer is to highlight two things I wrote. When I was 17, I wrote a story where children were transformed into flesh-based tires with vaginas on both sides and minds limited to only thinking about sex. They were based on what I thought Gears of War would be like as a hentai. And when I was 27, I wrote a story with a character who was a horse’s head on a human man’s lower body, with giant bat wings, a huge cock. His name was Jerimiah Pepperoni, he drove an airboat with his wings, and he was my personal interpretation of a demon!

I’m an artiste!

When it comes to non-TSF TF, I like things that are weird over sexy, and that is something that I was hoping Mice Tea would deliver upon. But no, that simply is not what the game is trying to do. You have a route where the protagonist, Margaret, is shrunken down to a twelfth of their normal size, but it is mostly played… ‘straight’. Margaret forages around a bit, is intimidated by the size of things, and is compelled by more animalistic urges as she is more mouse than woman. She is also hornier than usual and decides to dominate her makeshift boyfriend by teasing his penis and having him pleasure her while she displays herself in his palm.

That is more of a… standard way to go about things, and (presumably) follows the thought process of someone who is into furry and kink stuff. Whereas my mind immediately goes to far more… perverse angles. Stuff like shoving her into a butt and making her eat fart gas or poop. Placing her into a vagina— legs first— to have her give a masturbation massage with her clawed limbs. Making her eat smegma, because dick cheese. Putting her into a jar full of semen (or piss) and forcing her to drink it all before she can get out. And if she refuses, she could be boiled alive and her remains could be shoved into a sandwich. A mice-wich.

This woman and her bread fetish…

I don’t think of this stuff because I find it hot or attractive (I dunno what attractive even means at this point) but because I think it’s funny. Because a part of me is still 12-years-old and views poo-poo, farts, and pee-pee to be the height of comedy. Because my brain is so thoroughly fucked by spending the MAJORITY OF MY LIFE immersed in bizarre fetish stuff. 

It’s so bad that I was genuinely disappointed that there was no urine play in the game. I mean, the game is called Mice Tea. If you have a remotely healthy bladder, you need to pee about an hour after drinking a hot cup of tea. I’m not asking for something like TS Omorashi Hero wa, Mama ni Katemesen! by Kouji because that would definitely get you banned from Steam. But the fact there is nothing urinary here just feels wrong to me.

…Anyway, I just needed to get that tangent out of my system. I’ll save the good stuff for my review, coming May 10th. Because I like putting stuff out on Wednesdays. Also, that review is gonna be over 5,000 words long, easily

Double Dragon Is Back… For the Fourth? Time
(Double Dragon Gaiden: Rise of the Dragons Announced) 

It’s time for another game announcement report prefaced by a mostly off-the-dome history lesson. And this week, the subject is Double Dragon Gaiden: Rise of the Dragons.

The Double Dragon series has been in a weird place for… basically its entire life. It was, in many ways, the first truly successful multiplayer beat ’em up, paving the road that was later iterated on by titles like Streets of Rage, Final Fight, and far too many arcade quarter munchers to name. However, rather than building upon this success and trying to remain a genre leader, the series was… just comically mishandled. 

You had developers being contracted to make numbered entries in the series, following corporate guidelines above all else. You had a cartoon series and film that varied so dramatically from the source material they’re barely recognizable as Double Dragon. You had a fighting game spin-off that lost the license at the last minute. And a contender for one of the worst video game remakes with the 2013 XBLA remake of Double Dragon II

It is a sloppy series that has only sorta gotten organized after the rights to Double Dragon, and the related Kunio-kun series, fell into the hands of Arc System Works. 

After 2017’s throwback 8-bit revival, Double Dragon IV, failed to really take off for being dated in its design and generally… not good, it was not clear where this series would go. I’m interpolating here, but I can only imagine that Arc System Works was looking at 2019’s Kunio-kun spin-off, River City Girls for inspiration. A newcomer friendly title developed by WayForward that garnered a 2022 sequel. 

The success of River City Girls, along with other titles like Streets of Rage 4 and Tribute Games’ recent Ninja Turtles game, showed a sort of formula for beat ’em up revivals. Classic IP plus passionate and skilled independent developer equals critical and commercial success. So, for the next Double Dragon title, Arc System Works sought out Secret Base Games. A studio who I immediately recognized as the developer of Bitejacker, but also developed a 2018 beat ’em up by the name of Streets of Red. With these elements combined, it’s pretty easy to see how they got a contract to create Double Dragon Gaiden: Rise of the Dragons.

On that note, let’s talk about the game itself. The title sports some vibrant and colorful sprite art. 13 playable characters with extra variety added by a team-based combo mechanic. A mission-based structure and roguelite elements to encourage replayability and allow players to make some meaningful progress in sub-hour-long play sessions. It looks about as good of a revival you could ask for, with the only contentious element being the big heads of the character sprites. But that’s kind of an aesthetic element of the developer.

Double Dragon Gaiden: Rise of the Dragons will be released for PS5, PS4, Xbox Series, Xbox One, Switch, and PC this summer.

Plop ‘Em Into The Plaion Pail!
(Plaion Merges Deep Silver, Prime Matter, and Ravenscourt)

Well, this is something that I COMPLETELY forgot about until I saw this name again. In August 2022, The Embracer Group subsidiary, Koch Media, renamed itself to Plaion. A name derived from “Play On” and meant to be ‘easier to pronounce.’ Personally though, I think it was an attempt to distance the company from the Koch Brothers. This was a nothing story at the time, but it’s finally turned into something. 

Plaion is doing some restructuring and consolidating of its publishing divisions. Per a report by GamedInsudstry.Biz, Plaion intends on consolidating Deep Silver, Prime Matter, and Ravenscourt into one company under the Plaion name. While the respective publisher names will be used for a couple more years, those companies will cease to exist as individual entities. Which, naturally, means that layoffs will follow, with Plaion estimating that a sixth of their 2,000 employee workforce will be cut, or over 300 employees.

Why are they doing this? Well, sources say that Plaion wants to produce fewer high quality games. Which I read as they want to become a AAA game publisher instead of primarily peddling AA eurojank. I would ask why they would want this, but it’s probably part of some broader company plan within The Embracer Group so they can better cater to more facets of the games industry.

Why do this now? Well, Deep Silver just shipped Dead Island 2 after a solid decade of development hell. I would go on a tangent recapping things, but I already did that, also in August 2022. The game wound up being perfectly alright. Not great, not a disaster like part of me was expecting, and it sold over a million copies in three days. Which is nowhere near enough to recoup development costs, but that’s about as good as you could realistically expect for the launch. 

Aside from the layoffs and the fact that so many people will be without a job as the global economy is nearing a recession, this isn’t a huge loss for the industry. Deep Silver have been a prolific publisher in Europe for decades at this point. But they were never seen as a particularly ‘valuable’ brand. Ravenscourt is a publishing brand that I literally never heard of until now. And Prime Matter was only established in 2021. As such, the loss of these companies is not really trampling on any manner of ‘legacy’ but I do need to comment that Plaion is a pretty shitty brand name. 

Sony Continues Curbing Creative Companies
(Sony Shuts Down Pixelopus)

Pixelopus is a curious little developer founded by Sony in 2014, largely as a way to create in-house games with a vibe and creativity similar to those seen by prominent independent developers. Their debut title, Entwined, was a chill simplistic bird-based rhythm game. But most probably know them for 2019’s Concrete Genie, a 3D adventure game about childhood trauma and filling a desolate world with art. 

While neither of their titles were smash hits, they struck me as a logical successor to the sort of creative energy that Sony had been fostering since their inception as a games company. But, despite doing exactly what they were supposed to do, Sony abruptly shut down the studio, which will close its doors on June 2.

As for the reason why, Sony brushed it aside as ‘evaluating their portfolio’. Which is business speak for ‘something bad happened at this studio’ or ‘we don’t see value in this entity and want to throw it in the trash’. As for what happened? Well, it was announced that Pixelopus was working with Sony Pictures Animation of Spider-Verse fame, so my first guess is that the project they were working on, and that they had staffed up for, was canceled. 

Sony could definitely find a use for the skilled developers at this studio, or just turn Pixelopus into a support studio for their growing first-party line-up. But instead… they’re getting shut down, and a bunch of people are losing their jobs. 

If I may be even more cynical, I view this as the latest effort by Sony to discard and disregard the legacy that made the PlayStation brand into such a dominating force in gaming. PlayStation has gone from the home of innovation and creative ideas— from being the go-to place for most Japanese game developers— to being a boring American games publisher. Say what you will about the quality of their games, but Sony does not have anything close to the creative spark they had during the PS1, PS2, PSP, or PS3 era. They have chased trends and narrowed their focus to a fault and… it really sucks. It sucks and… I miss Japan Studio so freaking much.

Another Ramble About The Inevitable Rise of the Genshin-like
(Natalie Introduces A New Segment!)

For a while, I have been saying that the formula, structure, and open world action RPG furnishings of Genshin Impact will be replicated widely by competitors. Partially because, in the game industry, there is a longstanding history of companies copying the most popular and successful thing available. And partially because I think the game has a winning formula. Games like Tower of Fantasy and Blue Protocol are fulfilling a pretty directly similar niche, but as the games industry responds to years-old market trends, I expect there to be a bunch more. Maybe even some without an anime aesthetic. 

Now, this might seem like an odd take, as live services have been shutting down left and right, and customer confidence in the genre is extra shaky. But I would say that there is a distinct difference in a more typical instance-based live service title versus a live service title where one can explore a vast open world. It’s the difference between a menu-driven online game, and an MMORPG designed for phones and consoles. 

Anyway, I started thinking about the continued rise of this loosely defined genre after my dear friend, Cassandra Wright, started taking on her… eighth? Ninth? Live service in the form of Honkai: Star Rail. The latest game from MiHoYo: The Genshin Company. Which, surprise, surprise, is basically Genshin Impact, but designed around a more ‘anime science fantasy’ aesthetic, and with turn-based combat instead of real time action combat. Here is where I would make a jab about how turn-based combat is easier to power creep. But as a Dragalia Lost devotee, I know that’s not necessarily true. So long as it’s got numbers, then you can power creep it!

I could have tried to make time to check out the game for myself, maybe do some first impressions, but I said… nah. I’ve got TSF visual novels to review. So, instead, I’m going to have a girl who played at least 400 hours of Genshin Impact these past 6 months take the stand. Making her Natalie.TF debut, put your hands together for Cassandra Catherine Wright in Cassie’s Corner!

…For the record, I edited her words, because I am the Editor-in-Chief of Natalie.TF, and my word is LAW!

Cassie’s Corner:
Honkai: Star Rail Impressions

Oh gosh, I’m in a corner! Well, I sure hope it’s a comfy corner as this is where I’ll be from now on in Rundowns! I might not always have something to say, so I won’t always be here, but when I have stoofs I may appear. Like a rare event in a video game!

I am Cassandra Wright, and lemme tell you about the Honkai: Star Rail.

First off, this game is extremely similar to Genshin Impact. So much so that I believe most of the base framework is likely identical. The UI layout, character screens, battle pass, even the gacha system are a direct copy of MiHoYo’s prior game. It’s a tried and tested system that has raked in billions of dollars and is familiar to Genshin players like me, so why change it?

Though Star Rail has actually chosen not to rest on those laurels. Throughout the various daily missions, battle pass and other assorted to-dos, there are quality of life improvements. You can autobattle your way through easier encounters. You can chain battles using the energy system to quickly farm resources. And you can instantly teleport to locations of interest with buttons next to reward listings. Star Rail doesn’t merely copy a successful predecessor, but it polishes and refines the experience substantially.

The turn-based combat is probably the big selling point of this game, being the primary difference to this and the prior Genshin. The combat is pleasant, and surprisingly easy to understand for casual players. Highlighted elements alongside a pair of simple HP/guard meters make it clear what a player needs to do in order to efficiently kill the enemy. The attack and skill point system has essentially no skill floor, and combined with ultimate abilities, all lead to a surprisingly high amount of depth to the gameplay for those looking to min-max their rotations. 

This is before accounting for variations on these mechanics, such as abilities that grant a character an additional turn or cost health instead of the usual skill point. I am probably inclined to say I prefer this system compared to Genshin. The environment of battle feels much more ‘controlled’ in a way that player skill is more toward the planning of turns than timing i-frames or dodges. You can play Star Rail with one hand in battle, and if you have a mouse with additional buttons, then you could access every input you need just with one hand! Which does a lot to increase accessibility and lure in a casual audience.

The characters themselves are a breath of fresh air, with the majority of the welfare characters not only being appealing to the eyes and ears, but also genuinely good performers. This is a drastically different experience to Genshin Impact, where the main character is terrible until you unlock the 4th region in the game! The first two characters you unlock in Star Rail, March 7th and Trailblazer are exceptionally capable characters and I am still running them to this day in my teams. The overall character design of most characters is what you’d expect from a game following Genshin’s footsteps and in my honest opinion is a step above. The difference between 5-star and 4 star characters feels substantially less than Genshin, with most characters working out of the gate and not feeling hampered or incapable. Potentially a result of the changed combat system.

Unlike the swathing open-world of Genshin, Star Rail opts for smaller instanced zones, which are much easier to become acquainted with and explore. However, I am very much aware of my own dislike of open-world games and this may be a subjective thing. The reduced size should also make it quicker to develop them, potentially meaning faster or more content additions over time. Something you can guarantee you’ll get with the pedigree of this game. So far I am probably halfway through the current content available to offer and it has been enjoyable. The storyline is still taking its fledgling steps and there is plenty of lore already.

The interactions between characters are probably the highlight of the storyline, with Star Rail having absolutely no shame in pulling parodies and references out of nowhere. Something small that absolutely stands out as a highlight is the handling of the protagonist character in this game, with the dialogue choices having different responses and the main character actually speaking dialogue semi-regularly. By comparison, Genshin Impact’s Traveler has no spoken dialogue outside of selective story cutscenes, and 70% of dialogue choices have the exact same response. 

The difference made by these things is huge, instantly making Star Rail’s protagonist much more endearing and giving them a chance to show personality, of which the player can change based on their choices. Much of this could be due to the removal of a Paimon-like character, who served as a surrogate for the protagonist in dialogue, and replacing them with a group that travels alongside the protagonist. 

I like it. I really like it. The protagonist shows personality, the other characters are appealing and their interactions are great. It’s not quite the level that Dragon Age manages to achieve, but it’s enough to make me want to play and see more.

Did I mention this game already has more endgame content on offer than Genshin Impact? Star Rail features 2 separate sources of clear late-game goals. Simulated Universe is a roguelite mode in which one travels through past unlocked zones, collecting buffs till an end boss is fought in the final room. While Forgotten Hall which is akin to the Spiral Abyss of Genshin, sequential challenges of increasing difficulty. Each of these provide strong challenges for late game players and respectable rewards for your time invested.

I should probably finish up this ramble…

Star Rail is a veritable improvement over Genshin in nearly every way. It is a refined, polished and well-oiled rebuild of a solidly performing setup with enough of a twist to make it stand out on its own and appeal. It’s pretty to look out, the characters are pleasant, and their interactions create an environment that endears and compliments the storyline. And the music, which I have been listening to while writing this, is great.

The game is absolutely worth checking out for those inclined toward these types of game, especially with the current game release events making pulls quite accessible to newbies. Though, do remember. This is a gacha and MiHoYo is not known for their forgiving odds.

Thank you Cassie for contributing to Natalie.TF!

I have to say that I did not expect her to be so positive toward Honkai: Star Rail like that. But Cassie is a curious little fox, and she has a habit of falling out of love with new games as she starts playing them and developers keep changing things. Honestly, she makes the game sound like an actually good RPG… but I know never to trust a live service.

However, I will definitely give Zenless Zone Zero a week or two of my time when it comes out… sometime in 2024, I’d guess.

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