Artwork by CitrusKing46
And welcome to yet another edition of Robotic Gaming Monthly, Topless Robot’s monthly column devoted to providing a peek into the latest happenings in the gaming industry, which I admit is hard to do monthly, but eh, we do what we can.
So you may have heard that Gamescom and PAX Prime, two massive gaming events, took place in the last few weeks. As such, we kind of have quite a bit of ground to cover, which is why we have an expanded section for trailers this month featuring some of the most notable games from the two shows! That’s right folks, it’s a double dose of Daily Lists…kinda! Still, yayyy!!
So you know how last time I complained that it was a bit of a slow month for gaming news? Well, fate apparently decided that what I needed was a swift kick in the balls for tempting it so hard, so now even with Gamescom and PAX chucking out new announcements, there was quite the load to work with…although very little of it I actually had anything to say about…
Now, the one thing I’ve been asked to comment on is the whole “Quinnspiracy” controversy, but surprisingly, I really don’t have anything to say about it. Largely because any time I take a peek at the whole thing and the people discussing it, it always looks to me like an explosion in the dildo shop: Nothing but wall-to-wall dicks everywhere getting flung around dicking about with anything in their path as hard as possible, dicking with other dicks in the process and causing them to fly off and dick others, and so forth until nothing remains but a whole mess of battered dicks. And so I quickly closed the door on that shop, wanting nothing to do with those dicks.
Then there was the Anita Sarkeesian issue, in which Sarkeesian posted the latest video in her “Tropes vs. Women in Video Games” series on YouTube, this time taking a look at how female NPCs are treated in video games (not that well, apparently), and that misogyny in our gaming culture is naturally wrong. And certain male gamers responded with…more misogyny, to the point where some started making rape & death threats towards Anita, causing her to call the authorities and leave her house. And I’m not going to dwell on this one for too long, largely because all I have to say is “CHRIST ON A BIKE WHAT THE FUCK IS WRONG WITH YOU SICKOS???” I mean, dear lord, regardless of how you feel about Anita’s videos (and in no way am I defending them), how the hell could anyone go this far?? And come to think of it, Zoe Quinn received similar threats as well (and any search on the either seems to involve the other due to similar content)! Hell, even people defending other folks in these cases were either threatened or told to kill themselves! Dammit, what the hell is wrong is you people all of a sudden??
I would like to state again that this has nothing to do with who’s to blame in the Quinnspiracy, or the quality of Anita Sarkeesian’s videos, but rather the rather the simple fact that reacting to these scandals with threats of murder and rape is so, so very wrong. In fact, I shouldn’t have to state that, because again, THREATENING PEOPLE WITH RAPE AND MURDER IS FUCKING WRONG. Holy fuck, the fact that we have to even create articles these days highlighting that fact is so unbelievably sad. We even have a group of hundreds of game creators stepping up to call for an end to this kind of hateful speech and bring back some dignity and decency, because seriously, was there a certain chunk of gamers who just skipped the “Basic Human Decency 101” class taught at the beginning of life?
People who respond like that honestly come close to making me feel ashamed to be a gamer. And possibly ashamed to be a human. Actually, come to think of it, these aren’t humans. No, these are more like lumps of living, boorish, sociopathic feces, like versions of Chet at the end of Weird Science. Except Chet actually apologized for all of the crap he had done, and sadly something tells me we’re not so lucky here. You know, throughout all of these debacles, I keep hearing callouts for and promises of more integrity in gaming journalism in addition to the usual cries to the gaming industry to basically just get everything together and stop dicking gamers around. Well guess what, boyos, this is a two way street. If you want the industry and the people in and around it to show you respect, you have to show them respect as well, because that’s the only way we can achieve anything actually close to harmony here, not with a bunch of bullshit, threats, and so many instances of the c-word that even Yahtzee would ask you to tone it down.
So do you people not want games and a gaming culture dumbed down for everybody? Then smarten up and stop the hate. Simple as that.
But moving on to more recent matters at PAX Prime, Nintendo announced a new 3DS model. Now, this isn’t exactly new for Nintendo, or any console manufacturer for that matter, and Nintendo has already revamped the 3DS twice so far (or devamped, in the case of the 2DS). But the difference here is that not only does it include the addition of a second analog stick (among some other upgrades like a faster CPU speed and quicker download times), but that said analog stick would lead to games such as a port of the popular JRPG Xenoblade Chronicles being exclusive to this particular model of 3DS. Immediately, this sparked concerns that this might start a nasty trend of Nintendo releasing more and more exclusives for the New Nintendo 3DS (which yeah, seems to actually be its official name at the moment).
But you know, I guess I get it. There are just specific games that obviously work much better with a second analog stick. And it’s not like you can just attach another analog stick to a 3DS, right?
Oh wait, YES YOU TOTALLY CAN. Yeah, remember the Circle Pad Pro? The peripheral designed for situations just like this? Why not just pack it in with each copy of Xenoblade? And the Circle Pad Pro might have some rather obvious flaws, mind you, but this is your chance to get rid of those flaws & introduce an improved model that works and doesn’t piss anyone off! Because if I had to choose between paying at least $50 to upgrade my 3DS XL or about $20 to get a required peripheral, it’s no shocker as to which option I’d prefer.
But Nintendo has said this version of Xenoblade requires the extra processing power as well. Aside from the fact that I detect a faint aroma of B.S. coming from that statement (not helped by some commenters saying that the 3DS version still looks quite a bit underpowered compared to the original), why not have a new Circle Pad Pro double as a peripheral that adds the power needed to make up for these shortcomings, a la the Nintendo 64’s Expansion Pak? And don’t give me the excuse that this would make the game more expensive, because that’s still more excusable than forcing fans to upgrade to a new model. Besides, Xenoblade Chronicles‘ main audience is basically hardcore Nintendo and hardcore JRPG fans, and if I’ve learned anything from them, they’ll gladly chop off their nipples if it meant more Xenoblade…from what I’ve heard, it seems like they might even have their limits here when it comes to a full-on console upgrade.
Nintendo, the 3DS only still just came out in 2011, and not only have you pumped out a new model every year since then, but now you’re just exploiting the tastes of your most die-hard fans. Jesus, I don’t even think Apple is this evil when it comes to upgrading their products. I know the 3DS has been a massive success so far, but instead of concentrating on upgrades designed to sell only a certain amount of games, maybe you should step back, question whether or not those kinds of games even belong on the 3DS for now, and get back to work supporting that other console of yours that still needs a boost.
Moving from one handheld to another, let’s talk about Sony’s Gamescom conference. Honestly, in contrast to E3, where I didn’t think any of the Big Three actually “won” the show with their press conferences, I was all ready to hand Sony their trophy as the presentation went on. Wave after wave of incredible indie games and new IPs were served up to us on a nice hot platter (which we’ll get into soon), and just as I was ready to serve up a dessert of a giant ice cream sundae in a gold cup as prize…they went and unveiled Tearaway Unfolded.
…For those of you who forgot, Tearaway was a platformer released for the PS Vita last year to much acclaim, being a game designed to utilize every one of the Vita’s features and showcase what it can do, and because of that, it was wholly exclusive to the Vita and was a much-needed breath of fresh air that could potentially give a console as tragically ignored as the Wii U the jolt of life it needs.
And now, here’s Sony going “Well, f*** that” and just rigging up a PS4 port of the game.
Indeed, this is what made me notice that Sony basically gave the Vita no support outside of this port throughout the entire conference, thus causing me to deny them their trophy and instead hand it off to some orphans. In fact, this is also why I didn’t believe anybody else who said they “won” E3, because they completely shafted the Vita then as well. Sure, there were Vita games on the show floor at both shows, but Sony didn’t bother to direct any anybody’s attention to them in any real way. Hell, if anything, it’s gotten worse: Their E3 presentation merely ignored the Vita, and now their Gamescom presentation actually stripped it of an exclusive title. By this point I’m expecting their next step is to somehow install an upgrade to every Vita that causes it to spit acid in the players’ faces.
And if that doesn’t work, they’ll attach razors to the bottom.
Basically, I’m still wondering exactly what the hell Sony’s strategy with the Vita actually is…assuming they even have one. So far they seem to have put all of their eggs into the “Cross-Buy” basket, where purchasing the PS3 or PS4 copy gets you the Vita copy as well (or all three). It’s trying to set up a way to play all of your favorite games whenever you want, but really, I look at the Vita and the sheer number of games it has available for PS3 and PS4 as well, and all I see is that that poor kid in a family that insists on hand-me-down clothes and having to share their toys with all their siblings, even if they very clearly have their own toys.
That’s not how it works, Sony. A console like the Vita needs exclusive games in order to give it its own identity in order to attract customers, not just to act as a miniature version of a PS3 or PS4. “But hold on a second,” I hear you chiming in with. “Didn’t you just moments ago condemn Nintendo for putting an exclusive games on a new 3DS model? Isn’t that hypocritical?” First of all, I admit my own views on exclusive titles may be hypocritical at times, since I can make equally valid cases as to why exclusivity among gaming platforms is both a good thing and a bad thing. But this really isn’t one of those cases. Exclusive titles work best when they’re promoting new IPs and ideas in order to, again, give their platform some identity and stand out, and/or showcasing a range of the features that said platform can pull off, highlighting the best parts of it, and yet again contributing to that identity.
And whereas Tearaway was designed to showcase everything the Vita can do, as previously mentioned, Xenoblade Chronicles is just a port of a four-year old Wii game that’s getting the special treatment seemingly just because one of their characters is now in the new Smash Bros. game. There is no reason this game needs an entire console to be upgraded instead of, say, a Wii U port.
(Oh, and since I’ve now brought up Gamescom and exclusive console games, I guess I should mention the Rise of the Tomb Raider debacle. Except mentioning it is all I’ll do, since while it can clearly be seen as one of the negative examples of exclusivity, it’s basically just a repeat of the Bayonetta 2 debacle from a couple of years ago right down to the famous gaming action heroine, and since we all eventually got over that, we can safely ignore this drama.)
So yeah, Sony, I don’t care how incredible your PS4 lineup is getting; it really means nothing if you’re going to be cannibalizing another one of your consoles to support it. Start giving the Vita the proper promotion and treatment it deserves, and maybe then we’ll declare you the current kings of the gaming industry. Maybe.
Well, I think I might have succeeded in depressing myself a bit with this amount of idiocy in the news. What say we actually focus on some games, then? Reviews up ahead!
Well, the Summer gaming drought is finally beginning to reach its end, what with Destiny coming out next week and, you know, the general end of Summer going on. Things were a tad scarce for more high-profile releases, of course, but we were thankfully able to piece together an offering of titles from the past month that could either be worshiped as saviors in these trying times or end up getting sacrificed to the gaming gods in hopes of much better games. So let’s see what we had to work with…
I was pretty disappointed that my first ever review of a mobile game here last month was for a mediocre endless runner based on Sharknado. Even more disappointed was when I peeked out of the corner of eye and saw an iOS game released last month that people were fawning over more, 80 Days. And you know what they say: If all of your peers are doing it, why don’t you join in as well?
So I did join in, and you know what? The game kicked ass! So suck it, Reagan-era anti-drug messages!
As the name might imply, 80 Days is actually an adaptation of Jules Verne’s classic novel Around the World in Eighty Days, taking place in 1872 with the player taking on the role of French valet Passepartout as he helps assist his employer Phileas Fogg with his wager of being able to trot around the globe in a limited amount of time. Also, I admit that my only experience with the story may come from Three Stooges adaptations, but the original story took place in an alternate steampunk universe, right? Because this game has that as well.
And notably, 80 Days lives up to its novel-based roots by putting a huge emphasis on story. I’m almost tempted to compare the whole thing to a visual novels and Choose Your Own Adventure gamebooks, since practically every action you make in the game leads to a decision to make between multiple choices on what route to take, where to go in towns, what action to take and how to react, etc., with story told entirely through text instead of cinematics. And the end result does indeed feel like you’re crafting your own epic adventure as you journey through 150 cities.
The game tends to hammer in the traditional message that the journey is more important than the destination, supported by all the moments you can talk with Fogg and realize that this isn’t about the wager to him, but rather that he just wanted something more out of life. A clich?d message, possibly, but helped out by making the journey pretty damn exciting! In the course of one trip I was kidnapped by sentient steampunk machines who wanted me to help them in their cause, caught in a drowning ship after a mutiny I failed to prevent, and found myself in an impromptu boxing match, among countless other things. The writing really does bring each setting and the twists they have in this new universe to life, and even the simple images of various backgrounds, vehicle designs, and character portraits drawn in a gorgeous style help bring the settings to life, along with appropriate little tunes and sound effects for each new city.
The gameplay is simple yet perfect, the type of game where it really does feel like every choice you make has an effect on the game as a whole. You have to wisely choose how to spend Fogg’s funds, be it on which route to take or what to buy at the market. And even then, you’re faced with limited luggage space on each voyage, so you have to manage whatever items you take carefully. Do you bring along the rifle that you can sell for a hefty sum in another market two cities over, or a seafarer’s outfit that could be used for bargaining with ship captain to leave earlier and quicker later on? Do you immediately go to catch the first flight out of the city, or do you spend a few hours exploring the city first to possibly discover info that reveals alternate routes or ends up getting your pocket picked? Do you spend a few days waiting for the local bank to wire you more money, or do just purge ahead and find yourself on the street dancing for nickels in order to fund a camel ride? When discussing travel routes with other passengers on a long voyage, what do you inquire about? Or will you just tend to Fogg and strengthen your relationship? Will you have Passepartout make sweet, sweet love to another man or…well, best not to give away everything. There’s a lot of strategy involved, is my point, and you still have to think quick because the voyage’s clock is ticking, making for a challenging, simple, and fun experience.
Now, you may be thinking “Okay, so why care about the story? I’ll just ignore it, manage my supplies and finish this as quickly as possible!” at which point the game goes “WROOOONG!!!” and swats you upside the head. See, paying attention to your surroundings is another key element to 80 Days. At one point, I had planned out the route I had wanted to take well in advance, only for a passenger during the trip to tell me that one of the cities in my path had experienced an outbreak of cholera, so I should be careful. I dismissed it as mere window dressing and went ahead anyways, and upon arriving in said city, Fogg quickly contracted cholera and we had to wait several days and spend a bit of cash while he recovered, during which time I pondered making a little dunce cap for myself.
The story also affects the gameplay as well, since helping out characters involved in various ongoing conflicts or clandestine operations results in opportunities for shortcuts and more cash at the risk of your decisions possibly biting you in the ass. Even just talking to passengers reveals what various items you can purchase for cheap that will be quite valuable in more distant lands. So yes, not only does the story put an emphasis on the overall journey, but incorporates it nicely into the gameplay as well.
Any flaws? Well, while the map screen does a nice job of showing you your current routes available and uniquely showing you other players on their voyage at the moment, hinting at other notable routes to discover, navigating it can be a tad frustrating at times, especially when having to scale the map using a touch screen, which results in some awkwardness. But not as awkward as managing your luggage, let me tell you. At one point I had to get on a train leaving in a few moments, but we had four pieces of luggage and I only bribe the conductor into accepting three pieces of luggage, max. So I jettisoned a few items to make room, but as the luggage works like in Resident Evil 4 where each object takes up so much room, and the game couldn’t automatically compact everything I had back into three remaining bags, I had to move items from one case into the other three manually. Except touching and dragging didn’t seem to work, so I spent all my time trying to play a little game of Twister with my fingers in the hopes that something would happen. It didn’t, and the train left without us. It wasn’t until a few in-game days later that I learned you have to touch an object, hold it in that position for about a second or two, and then you’re allowed to move it to another suitcase. Ah yes, because clearly it was so obvious. Thanks for not explaining it, game!
But those are really just petty niggles in an otherwise stellar game. 80 Days is a terrific piece of work and one of the year’s best portable games so far, and is definitely a trip worth taking several times over (with each session lasting about an hour or so). Just remember to pack some heavy medication at times.
They say you can never judge a book by its cover, but upon seeing Eidolon, its minimalistic presentation, and its description in the Steam store saying that “It is a game about history, curiosity, interconnectedness, and the slow and inevitable beauty of life.”, my initial thoughts were divided between “This is going to be an incredibly moving, powerful experience” and “This is going to be one pretentious piece of s***”. In the end, it was neither, although thankfully leading more towards the former.
Eidolon can be described as a survival sim/exploration-based adventure game hybrid, plunking your character into the wrecked remains of Northern Washington circa the early 25th century, ages after a major disaster has taken place and nature has started to reclaim everything. What you do from this point outward is up to you, so wanting to carve my own story, I headed up into the mountains to seek my own path and discover just what had happened…where I prompted to immediately get lost amongst acres and acres of identical-looking trees, started to die from the cold after wandering into the snowy mountaintops, and eventually found myself actually falling off the side of the game’s map, slowly dying in a blank void as the world floated above me.
Needless to say, it wasn’t exactly the greatest first impression.
In retrospect, this was easily due to Eidolon‘s tendency to dump you into the game without explaining most of the mechanics and rules, as is the current norm for survival games. And after starting my second playthrough, I began to experiment more and get a feel for things. The survival mechanics are thankfully simple and never felt annoying. You pick up food and eat food when the game indicates you’re hungry, you pick up wood and build fires when it indicates you’re cold, easy-peasy. Things really started to get going when I found my first landmark and gained the binoculars, which led me to spot the next area I would travel to, where I would find the fishing rod and a river I followed, leading me to discover a compass and my first map slightly off the beaten path.
From there I was finally able to decode the locations of more landmarks and set off towards them, and this is where I discovered that a lot of Eidolon is a game of patience. Hoofing it on foot through constant forests at first got a bit annoying at first (the auto-run button will be your best friend here), but it eventually paid off once I found myself on a ruined highway leading to the skeletal remains of several skyscrapers, impressive sights and scenery all around me (this particular style of art definitely having its moments) as I combed the wreckage for documents detailing what exactly had happened, leading to tales of mad cults, brutality, and survival plans gone horribly wrong, in obvious contrast to the now-serene wilderness all around it. Truly I was now getting into the game more than ever and wait, hold on a second, did my game just freeze up?? OH, FFFFF…
Yeah, the fact that Eidolon tends to be a a tad buggy and feel a little unpolished at times doesn’t exactly help. Brief freezes would happen on occasion, along with visits from pop-in textures and the tendency to briefly have me clip through the bottom of the map at times, usually when navigating more rocky terrain and hills. The rules when it comes to survival can also get a bit odd now and then, such as the fact that your character has weird ideas when it comes to conserving food. When it comes to the fish you catch, just one is apparently enough to quell your stomach for a while, but then you go to consume the wild mushrooms you pick as well and you end up chugging down thirty or so of them to equal what one fish did for you. Then there was a moment where I fell off a ranger station and found myself with a wound that affected my character and just wouldn’t go away, but later I fell down a particularly steep hill and gained two more wounds…which just ended up healing themselves after a certain amount of time while the original wound still lingered. I understand letting us fend for ourselves, but either add a little more consistency or explain the rules a tad more, is all I’m sayin’.
But in the end, I can still say that I mostly enjoyed Eidolon. If you’re patient and able to overcome its flaws, you may indeed discover an engaging little bit of wilderness survival (although you may argue whether or not it warrants a $15 price tag). Just be prepared to pick and scarf down enough mushrooms to rival an entire crowd at a Phish concert.
MIND: Path to Thalamus
MIND: Path to Thalamus is a game about – shockingly enough – exploring someone’s mind and going on a journey that helps them sort out their various issues. Now typically, my initial reaction is to immediately turn giddy over any game whose premise I can even remotely compare to Psychonauts, so I immediately jumped on this. What did I wind up with? A solid first-person puzzler that did indeed end up surprising me in a few parts.
The premise of MIND is that you are a storm chaser named…eh, I don’t remember him ever being given a name, so let’s just call him Mr. Tickles, attempting to deal with the tragedy involving a storm chasing incident that took his young Sophia from him and that he feels responsible for by taking a journey through his own mind to a legendary tree known as the Thalamus, which will supposedly allow him to confront his issues and make peace with Sophia. As it turns out, though, a storm chaser’s mind has weather on the brain quite a lot, and so said journey involves you having to help Mr. Tickles navigate a series of puzzles and obstacles that all involve manipulating the weather and the environment around you. Dropping orbs provided into specific areas causes day to turn into night and opens portals that lead you to new areas, changing the seasons and causing time to turn backwards and restore bits of architecture and obstacles or cause them to disappear, cause a sudden rain that makes platforms rise up, etc. It definitely allows for a lot of clever puzzles that makes you use both clever thinking and quick timing throughout the game, even if the puzzle difficulty can seem a tad inconsistent at times. One level can be a bit of a brain-teaser, and the next fairly straightforward and not requiring more than simple exploration, but I can’t say the shifts in difficulty never reached any levels of annoyance.
So what did get annoying? Well, certainly not the graphics. Unsurprisingly, a game revolving around weather effects and a journey through various landscapes showcasing different parts of nature is flippin’ gorgeous indeed, with several creative surreal bits added in for good measure, not to mention a particular boss fight of sorts that took my breath away a bit. Again, the world created in Mr. Tickles’ mind is quite a sight to behold indeed…which makes it a shame whenever I actually had to solve a puzzle in it, which required carrying a large orb around to the areas that alter the environment, thus ensuring that I had what looked like a giant thorny beach ball blocking about a third of my view of the scenery several times. Although the orb also had a tendency to fling out of my hands whenever I had bumped against anything while carrying it, swung around too hard, stepped out of a creek, coughed, and so forth. It does get awkward at times indeed, and it seems like the only solution was to adjust the video settings, so maybe that was just me.
But then there’s also the issue of invisible walls. Yes, that old chestnut. I get that all of the puzzles take place in self-contained areas, but when a puzzle takes place in, say, a vast desert where you can clearly see for miles, it just seems silly. The apex of said silliness being when one puzzle consisted of Mr. Tickles having to manipulate portals in order to find his way around the insurmountable obstacle that was a two-foot-high wooden fence. Throw in the fact that the games also encourages you to explore and find little hidden easter eggs and such, and that’s where it moves into being frustrating.
Then there’s also the ongoing narrative from Mr. Tickles, which has been taking shots from other critics as well for being too overdramatic, mopey, and annoying (hell, the game’s latest patch even mentions fixing the script due to these issues)…and while, yeah, it could come across as trying too hard, I never really found it annoying enough to kill the mood. And without giving away anything, one moment near the end spun this narration around into a bit of genius, potentially even acting as a bit of a meta moment for other gaming narratives like this. Honestly, that moment alone immediately justified any tortured whining Mr. Tickles was letting off throughout everything.
So to sum things up, while MIND can stumble in a few parts and might be a tad on the short side, it’s still a very satisfying puzzle game that I would indeed recommend. Just be prepared to potentially develop a hatred of large spherical objects.
So that wraps up another round of reviews, albeit less than last month…due to time constraints, I sadly couldn’t fit in any room for Five Nights at Freddy’s or Azure Striker Gunvolt (which only came out this weekend), so we’ll just save those for Robotic Gaming Monthly #5. Sorry if that’s a disappointment, but hopefully traveling back in time to party like it’s 1999 now will help make up for it…
And now, time for the Retro Gaming Mag Spotlight! This month we take a look at the December 1999 issue of Gamers’ Republic, meaning we have now jumped from the innocent times of the beginning of the ’90s to the end of the ’90s, when everyone in America was running around and trying to stock up on canned goods and toilet paper because they were convinced computers were going to destroy the world.
And as for Gamers’ Republic…Ah, Dave Halverson, I loves ya. You and all three of your magazines – <>GameFan (and its relaunch), Gamers’ Republic, and Play (the American mag, not the British Playstation mag with the same name) – have had quite the impact on me over the years, thanks to your passion for focusing on more lesser-known and hardcore fare, especially with imported Japanese games. I’d almost go so far to say you’d be an idol, were it not for the fact that…well, honestly, most of the stories about Dave aren’t exactly the greatest. For one, he apparently tended to run into money troubles with his publications more often than not. Second, opinions on him seem to range from being a nice guy to being a real dick. Third, there’s the fact that while Dave definitely knew how to create a magazine that looked fantastic and focused on relatively smaller but no less worthy video games that deserved more coverage, Dave’s actual reviews and writings, particularly during the Play era) were rather…eh, optimistic and enthusiastic, for better or for worse. And quite worse, at times.
It probably doesn’t help that Dave has seemingly dropped off the face of the earth after early 2013 (here’s hoping this lures him out), but I still love Dave for everything he believed in and his goal of bringing hardcore gaming coverage to the masses, even despite all his issues such as gushing over new IPs and smaller games, coverage that can feel a little too excessive at times, the issues with making deadlines, laziness, potentially sloppy writing, constant money issues…wait, hold a second…was I secretly Dave Halverson all along??? Oh my god…
As for actually talking about Gamers’ Republic, it was a result of Halverson leaving GameFan in 1997 due to internal conflicts, and starting his own mag again that was supposedly a bit more mainstream. GR launched in the Summer of 1998, but folded in 2001 after 36 issues due to – surprise! – money issues. As such, information on GR is a bit more scarce compared to the long-running GameFan and Play. Still, I remember it as an enjoyable read from my youth…then again, I also enjoyed the music of Smash Mouth and Kid Rock around this time as well. Anyhow…
Well, appropriately enough for a hardcore gaming mag from around this time, the cover is devoted to a Dreamcast game, with the console having just recently launched in America. Alas, that game here is D2, one of the more forgettable Dreamcast titles. You can probably spot at least six games on this cover more worthy of a main feature, but again, it fits Dave’s philosophy of rooting for the underdog, and given how the original D was fairly well-received back in the day, this wasn’t too far-fetched. But we’ll get to that later…
– We begin with an editorial from Dave himself celebrating the then-ongoing status of video games making their first grand steps into more mainstream culture, and how expansion such as this will eventually lead to your favorite games receiving bigger budgets…which turned out to be true, except nowadays we can actually complain that a game is over-budgeted. He also commented about how these developments could lead to more and more average people getting into gaming, which sadly proved a bit too true once the Wii/iPhone games came along and we all too late learned the negative side of “casual” gaming. Dave ends by still promising to continue coverage on the little guys even as gaming goes more and more mainstream, even if still means the occasional Pokemon article or celebrity interview. He also jokes that this means no wrestling games on the cover…and while I can’t find the proof, I am almost positive he put a wrestling game on the cover two issues later.
– So we truly start with the news, with the lead being…a celebrity interview. Ah, now I see why the reassurance earlier. The interview in this case is with then-popular (and still-kinda-popular) alternative rock band 311, and their opinions on the Sega Dreamcast (or bassist P-Nut’s opinions, at least). There are two notable questions that actually pop up, though: One, GR actually brings up the topic of mainstream music being used in more and more video games. While this wasn’t entirely new, it is worth noting that that this was just a couple of months after the first Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater game was released, a series which eventually popularized the use of licensed soundtracks in video games. Mind, you the question seems to deal more with popular musicians composing soundtracks for video games (and we’ll get to that soon), but it’s still noteworthy in my book.
The second was a question about their thoughts on this whole “MP3” thing, since Napster was just getting into swing around this time. P-Nut actually approved of it because it allowed more musicians to receive more exposure and reach wider audiences, envisioning a future where you can just stay at home and pay a dollar for the latest hit song. Well dang, point to you for predicting the future, P-Nut.
– Speaking of which, we also happen to have the odd Pokemon article…and I mean odd, because believe it or not, Pokemon was actually subject to the wrath of moral guardians back in its relative infancy. In this case, parents were in an uproar over the fact that the Pokemon TCG was promoting illegal gambling. How? Well, premium cards are randomly inserted into packs of Pokemon cards and the odds of finding them are 1 in 33, therefore trying to find a premium card is illegal gambling, DUH. I mean, you could say this about ANY trading card set that had premium cards, foil cards, and the like…and they apparently have, because the parents brought up similar lawsuits against other trading cards supposedly promoting gambling as well. Nintendo pointed out the obvious fact that none of those cases were successful, and thus another group of parents concerned with blaming the media for their kids behavior instead of their own damn parenting rightfully gets struck down again.
– Trying to promote the Dreamcast even further with more pics of celebrities enjoying it (and trust me, most hardcore gamers back then wouldn’t fault them), we also get a bit about Sega’s Mobile Assault promotional tour tagging along with the Family Values tour, featuring the likes of Primus, Filter, and Limp Bizkit. Sadly, guess which band was pictured enjoying the Dreamcast. We also get additional bits about a promotional green Nintendo 64 complete with Donkey Kong 64 and the Ram Pak mentioned earlier, and some woes concerning Shenmue being delayed until next year, along with its $40 million-plus budget (which when adjusted for inflation, would still be kind of ludicrous today). Sadly, this story would not have a happy ending…just a cliffhanger ending.
– On to the lists of the top games at the time, and leading the pack among the biggest-selling console games was Final Fantasy VIII, with VII notably still in the Top 10 for PlayStation games as well. I should also note that this is the period where there seemed to be a bit of a JRPG boom in gaming, as Final Fantasy VII‘s hype and subsequent massive success (along with Diablo and Fallout earlier providing initial bangs) suddenly opened the door for more imported RPGs to try their luck stateside. Elsewhere in sales, Pokemon and its spin-offs were still the most dominant force in gaming overall across the board, and Command & Conquer: Tiberian Sun was the number-one PC game, somewhat appropriately.
Interestingly, the list of GR‘s Top Ten games of the month was actually eight Top Ten lists from eight individual staff members, giving us a little more variety. Though T. Stratton’s list always struck me as odd…I mean, the others all included older games they were still into/revisiting here and there on their lists as well, Stratton decided to go with the 1983 arcade game Major Havoc as his number one game at the moment, in kind of a stark contrast to the others. Also, he included the NES adaptation of Jeopardy! for some reason. Was he just kind of the odd duck on staff?…
– Now to the main story, a look at the then-upcoming survival horror game for the Dreamcast, D2. It was kind of a stark contrast to the original D, which was a more puzzle-based horror game as opposed to this (which has no relation to the original), which involved the main character being caught in plane crash that left her and other survivors stranded in a snowy wilderness while under attack from sci-fi monsters mutating humans. If your first thought was “The Thing rip-off”, series creator Kenji Eno was prepared for that in an interview, saying that he actually does like John Carpenter and American cinema, and that yeah, maybe he was influenced by the ’82 classic. He also notes the sharp contrast between the two, and makes it clear that the overall goal here was to create a powerful, moving atmosphere. Which he ended up succeeding at, as many critics praised D2‘s story, graphics, and atmosphere indeed…but unfortunately said that the actual gameplay was dull and repetitive. Unsurprisingly, no more D games were made afterwards, although games where gameplay took a backseat to graphics, cinematics and story still survive to this day.
– Moving to previews in general, the first one that stood out to me was for Messiah, which was finally due to be released then in a few months after about four years in development. The action game was about a cherubic angel named Bob sent down to a futuristic Earth by God to essentially clean up all the sin and filth by possessing various humans to help get the job done. Considering that designer David Perry (and his company Shiny Entertainment) had become a darling amongst gaming critics thanks his recent streak of hit original gaming IPs such as Earthworm Jim, MDK, and Wild 9 (to a lesser extent), hopes were high, but the four-year delay left people skeptical. In the end, Messiah was still well-received by critics, but very obviously was not the revolution they were hoping for. Also notable? It had a soundtrack by the industrial band Fear Factory, who even released it as a compilation album, tying back to the mention of popular musicians in gaming.
– Perhaps not coincidentally, the preview immediately after Messiah was for MDK2, the sequel to the previously-mentioned sci-fi action hit that was also pegged as a potential hit the Dreamcast needed. At the very least, it ended up being a critical hit, but this came not from the hands of Shiny, but rather this relatively new company called BioWare. It looked pretty cool to Dave back then, but I guess we still had reason to be skeptical. I mean sure, BioWare had gained massive praise with this Baldur’s Gate medieval RPG thingy, but what would they know about delivering a successful action-packed sci-fi adventure?
– Next comes an interview with Red Company, the folks behind (among other things) the Bonk games, the then-recently-released JRPG Thousand Arms, and the Sakura Wars RPG games, a series which I’m still positive Sega gets hate mail over for only having localized one game in them so far. Though all I can think about is a set of screenshots from Super Tempo (a Saturn platformer released only in Japan), with a message to developers saying to take a note of this “2D” thing and use it a hell of a lot more often. My original thoughts back then? Take that bit, blow it up, and put it on billboards outside every major gaming company. Still can’t say it’s a bad thought these days.
– Review time! Notably jumping to the head of the class was Crash Team Racing with a straight “A” grade, which is both a product of its time as both a participant in the whole kart racing craze gaming was also going through back then and also as a reminder that the Crash Bandicoot games used to be massive, popular, acclaimed pieces of work, and that Crash himself was a huge pop culture figure…and then the ’90s ended, Naughty Dog left the series, the rest went downhill. And while it might be easy to dismiss it as a cash-in on the whole kart racing fad, any game critic will easily tell you that CTR rose way above the rest of the licensed kart racer cash-ins, easily deserved this kind of praise, and yes, even rivaled the Mario Kart games out at the time. Alas, poor Crash…
– Donkey Kong 64 comes next, scoring an A-minus and again representing a current trend at the time: the “collect-a-thon” platformer that Rare themselves popularized with the Banjo-Kazooie games. DK64 was also well-received at the time as well, but the general opinion of it today is that while it’s still a good game, it has definitely not stood the test of time. A large part of that is because the game tended to maybe place a little too much emphasis on collecting things to progress. Hell, the reviewer here even points out the game’s one flaw being that it actually might have too much to explore. Not to mention…um, other parts of the game that haven’t held up as well.
– So remember what I said earlier about Dave Halverson being too enthusiastic and generous with his reviews? Well, most gaming critics would tell you that Earthworm Jim 3D was an over-delayed, mediocre mess that sadly followed the trend of once-successful 2D platformer stars failing to make the jump to 3D. Dave, however, gave the game an A-minus. Yeah, not the brightest move. Maybe he just wanted the game’s development to have a happy ending because, well, who wouldn’t want that? But alas, he tends to come off as more of a madman here. Jim sadly never recovered from this mess, but I hear that the developer behind Interplay handed things off to – Rockstar Games – eventually recovered and went on to achieve some modest success.
– Now, seeing as how we’re at the halfway point of a parade of praise involving six back-to-back reviews all involving games that got at least an A-minus (well, it was the Holiday gaming season), let’s just sum them up quickly: We have Resident Evil 3, known for deploying one of gaming’s most iconic monsters; Spyro 2: Ripto’s Rage, a continued success for a fellow PlayStation platformer who would sadly meet the same fate as Crash (then play second fiddle in his own comeback that gave birth to the future bane of parents’ wallets everywhere); and Rocket: Robot on Wheels, an underrated Nintendo 64 platformer that was truly a masterpiece of the genre that clearly deserved more love, and I am totally not saying this just because the developers would later create the Sly Cooper games (though seriously, the general consensus now is that yeah, it was underrated and deserved more). We also have Vandal Hearts II later on, but by this point I’m too exhausted from A’s to think of anything clever to say about it.
– We do get some little reviews and previews for portable games afterwards, reminding us that the Neo Geo Pocket Color was a thing that existed. Most critics were indeed incredibly fond of the games released for it, and it definitely does come across as an underrated bit of hardware that was a worthy rival to the Game Boy. Unfortunately, Nintendo kind of had an 800-pound gorilla in their corner – or rather, a thirteen-pound electric mouse – so there’s kind of a reason we aren’t all playing Neo Geo Pocket XLs these days instead.
– Next comes an in-depth look at that year’s Tokyo Game Show, where a looming PlayStation 2 was drawing record crowds and making Sega sweat bullets. Though it does seem weird in retrospect that Sony once thought Square Enix’s The Bouncer would end up being a killer app. Don’t remember The Bouncer? Yeah, exactly my point. The rest is eight pages long and doesn’t cover anything out of the ordinary (did I mention they really liked to cover Japanese games?), so moving on…
– We get some coverage of import games now, because we clearly just didn’t have enough, but quite notable is a review for Robbit Mon Dieu, the third game in the Jumping Flash! series seen reviewed here before in Game Players, and thus helping prove that it kicked ass until the end…even if this entry never made it over to our shores. We also get a first look at Berserk for the Dreamcast, described here as “the bloodiest video game ever devised.” Dawwww, that almost seems quaint these days!
– And now we get anime reviews, because there was a pretty big overlap between hardcore gamers and anime fans at the time. Now, I am in no way an anime expert, and aside from Cowboy Bebop, I am pretty unfamiliar with these titles and their general reputations, so best to possibly skip most of this. Although I did actually see this Princess Mononoke film they gave a perfect score to, thought it was pretty neat, and yes, I will stop feigning ignorance as a joke now.
– We also get a section taking a look at action figures and toys as well (again, overlap), which this month serves to highlight that yes, even back then Japan was fetishizing the hell out of famous movie monsters.
– A little movie section gives us a review of a kung fu film called Dance of Death that I sadly know nothing about, the news that Emma “Baby Spice” Bunton would be recording a song for the soundtrack to the first Pokemon film (and ended up getting overshadowed by a Norwegian duo), and that a movie adaptation of the PC shooter Redneck Rampage was underway, because with the expansion of gaming into the mainstream came every single game with even the remotest of popularity being rumored to have an eventual film…another trend that still hasn’t stopped.
– Finally, we get an interview with legendary guitarist and David Bowie collaborator Reeves Gabrels concerning his work on the soundtrack for the then-just-released Omikron: The Nomad Soul (which also involved Bowie on the soundtrack and even had cameos from him in the game), again tying into the increase of famous musicians and game soundtracks. Now if only it were for a better game…
…And after a brief reader mail section, that does it for this particular issue. As usual, a big thanks to Retromags for making the archiving of these gone-but-not-forgotten gaming mags possible. Make sure to give them your support, even check out the full issue featured this month right here if you want, god bless ’em! Next up, time to delve into some of the best the twin beasts known as Gamescom and PAX had to offer this month!
Well, time for the usual roundup of video game trailers…okay, a little more unusual this time around. Yes, now we’ve finally gotten to our Gamescom and PAX Prime 2014 coverage! And trust me, there was a lot to work with between both events and any regular game trailers that came in between. So yes, we are actually going to have three pages of trailers here, one for Gamescom, one for Pax, and one for any misc. stuff. And yes, since this is going up in place of a list, I may as well present these like lists anyway! Let’s get going…
The Ten Most Interesting Games From Gamescom 2014
Now, keep in mind that since we already covered Silent Hills and Metal Gear Solid V, both of those are disqualified from this this particular list. I mean, there was also the revelation that Metal Gear Solid V would let you weaponize horse poop, which is always a plus, but believe it or not, there were more interesting things to offer than just doodies. So with that in mind, in no particular order…
…So I think it might be safe to say that Tequila Works’ PS4-exclusive adventure about a boy trying to escape a mysterious island is coming together nicely and looking quite gorgeous. Besides, I think it’s safe to say that any game you can look at and make immediate positive comparisons to Ico sure as hell has a ton of promise.
The Tomorrow Children
Another PS4 exclusive, described by the developers as being a “surreal Marxism simulator” and…well, honestly, summing up the premise beyond that is going to take another two paragraphs and possibly still leave you scratching your head, so probably best to look it up yourselves. You sure as hell can’t say it doesn’t look interesting, though. Besides, any game that basically has you recreating Knowhere shall definitely earn a plus in our book.
Moving to an Xbox One exclusive, we finally get to see the elusive Quantum Break in action. And while some may scoff at the game and label it as just another generic cover-based third-person shooter, I say screw it, the game and its time manipulation mechanics still look pretty damn fun, and that’s all I need. Plus, I’m curious as to whether or not they can actually pull of the TV show tie-in the player’s choices affects (and also, our header artist threatened to draw cocks on everybody if we didn’t include this, since he’s a fan of Remedy’s games. We good now?).
Another Xbox One exclusive, this one being what I can only describe as a version of Rollercoaster Tycoon where you are now actually encouraged to build a half-finished coaster that sends your patrons flying into a building to potential doom. Besides, nothing says “Fun for the whole family!” than measuring success in screams.
Yes, I know I mentioned Below before in my E3 coverage, but I honestly wasn’t certain if the trailer there really did the game justice. But this? Ahhh, now thisis how you show off Capybara’s incredible roguelike. I honestly cannot wait to get my ass kicked my all the terrors this descent has to offer…
A PS4-exclusive horror game that’s a giant ode to slasher films being made with the help of the guy behind You’re Next, one of the best and freshest takes on slasher films in recent years? I think it’s safe to say I’m down with that. Hell, even if it’s just The Cabin in the Woods: The Game, anything contributing towards the trend of bringing actual horror back to horror games is always welcome.
Rayman creator Michel Ansel debuted his new studio’s latest work, and boy, was it impressive indeed. An open-world survival game where you can be any living creature you want to be? Ambitious, to say the least. And maybe, just maybe, this will finally give us the opportunity to have the manicorn simulator we always wanted.
The Vanishing of Ethan Carter
So this year’s earlier Murdered: Soul Suspect ended up being quite the disappointment for me, but I still think the concept of an open-world supernatural murder mystery has the potential to make for a terrific game. And Ethan Carter appears to have that potential, so here’s hoping it makes the most of it when it comes out next month for Round 2…
The man behind the indie darling hit Thomas Was Alone strikes again with his homage to the original Metal Gear Solid…just incredibly more vibrant, and pitched as a modern-day take on the story of Robin Hood as well. You know, typical par for the course in indie gaming by this point. Looks awesome, needless to say.
Life Is Strange
So remember Dontnod, the developers behind last year’s Remember Me, the sci-fi game with a lot of great concepts that sadly underperformed? Well, time for a second chance with an episodic adventure game where the protagonist has the power to rewind time and re-do any choices she makes if anything goes wrong…even if it leads to something more wrong down the road. And as a fan of Heavy Rain, I’m all for games that play like it.
So that does it for Gamescom’s best (at least until we get to more general trailers later), so now on to this month’s other big gaming event! On to PAX Prime…
The Ten Most Interesting Games From PAX Prime 2014
…Alas, this was a bit trickier to cover, if only because between having to get my info second-hand, the overlap between major games that appeared both here and at Gamescom, and the fact that not many people wanted to update on Labor Day weekend, info on any good highlights from the show haven’t popped up as much. But let’s just see what we have…
Well, if there was a reveal everybody was talking about at PAX this year, this was definitely it: The reveal of the mysterious Firewatch that had been teased before by notable veterans of the gaming industry, now shown as an intriguing first-person adventure taking place in 1989 starring a fire lookout seemingly paranoid after the 1988 Yellowstone wildfires and setting out on a bizarre personal journey where his only link to humanity now is a female voice on the other end of a radio…Can’t wait! Also, any game that has Olly Moss doing the artwork deserves to be noticed. Damn sweet.
Costume Quest 2
Honestly, I could pretty much leave this at just “It’s Double Fine, therefore it shall be awesome and I will buy it”, but I’ll elaborate and also point out that it’s a sequel to an incredible kid-friendly RPG, appears to contain even more of the stuff that made the original great and more, and apparently lets you now play as an evil clown that can combat Steve Martin. So yeah, it shall be awesome and I will buy it.
Yes, I mentioned Titan Souls here before as well. But I think we can all safely agree that any game that can be described as “Dark Souls + Shadow of the Colossus + The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past” quite easily deserves all the coverage it can get. Seriously, I dare you to disagree.
A Fistful of Gun
Also in stuff that’s hard to disagree with, chaotic and action-packed Western-themed top-down co-op shooters. Which sounds like quite a mouthful, but then again, the game throws quite a bit at you itself, as you may see, and that’s the way we like ’em. It may have to duel with Secret Ponchos for the title of Best Indie Top-Down Western Shooter…and the upcoming enhanced Westerado game as well…dang, this is kind of an odd trend.
A City Sleeps
So having already conquered the world of rhythm games, Harmonix now decides to take a shot at the world of “bullet hell” shooters. Kind of an odd direction, but the attacks are directly tied into the soundtrack, so they haven’t strayed too far from their roots. And aside from looking awesome, we also get a cool story about diving into peoples’ heads to perform dream exorcisms, and as mentioned before, anything I can even remotely connect to Psychonauts = Giddiness from me.
Salt and Sanctuary
Well, Ska Studios impressed the hell out of me last year with last year’s Charlie Murder, one of my top indie games from then that featured old-school gameplay where you beat the tar out of every known monster available to man. So let’s bring back the parade of monsters again and wrap it all in a Dark Souls-inspired Metroidvania game. Yeah, I’d say that sounds like a good (albeit punishing) time.
Spry Fox sort of basically earned my eternal gratification for producing Road Not Taken, as you may remember last month. So when they announce a new game about dragon-wrangling and the joy of movement as you fly through the air, damn straight I’ll pay attention. And it has a Western theme as well, because seriously, how did that suddenly become a thing among indie games?
It might not even have a name yet, but after Alien Hominid, Castle Crashers, and Battleblock Theater, The Behemoth could probably release a game that consists of nothing but a blank screen and everyone would be all over it in seconds. But instead they’re prepping what looks to be one hell of an incredible turn-based strategy RPG with a lot of personality, as usual. Actually, screw the name, it’s safe to say we’ll take this as is.
Well, it’d be silly of me not to feature anything from the PAX 10, a selection of outstanding indie games chosen to be given honors and featured at the show. So for a change of pace, why not a mobile game where you’re a living skull flinging itself around by its brains in order to take down undead deadbeats and collect debts from them? Ah yes, that’d definitely be one hell of a distraction for your phone…
Another game from the PAX 10, you may notice that the trailer for Nova-111 is notably not new. I know it feels a tad like cheating, but I sadly missed out on playing the game and E3 and regretted it, because the premise of a turn-based adventure and puzzle game in a real-time world is quite intriguing indeed, to say the least. So here’s to you, Nova-111. May you hopefully charm our pants off soon (hopefully with a new trailer, at least).
And yes, we have even more trailers, believe it or not. It probably doesn’t help that the Tokyo game Show also began just as I was writing this. But seriously, let’s take a look at some of the other remnants next and see what we get…
Yep, it’s a Pok?mon/Tekken hybrid from Bandai Namco. Yep, it really does seem like a silly idea. And yep, I will totally still play this game if they include Scrafty and Hawlucha (assuming it goes to home consoles after Japanese arcades, of course).
Assassin’s Creed: Rogue
Because Ubisoft doesn’t want you to go a year with just one Assassin’s Creed game now, here comes Rogue, which in contrast to Unity will only be heading to 360 and PS3 instead of any next-gen platforms (no, not even PC). The game involves a rogue Assassin turned Templar and will involve Arctic naval combat (like in Black Flag) during the Seven Years’ War in Colonial America, leaving gamers everywhere to wonder why the [BEEP] the last-gen consoles are getting the infinitely cooler AssCreed game.
It may just be an anime sequence, but I know at least one of you will bug me if I don’t include it (rightfully so), so enjoy.
…It is a game called Donut County where you play as a freaky Katamari Damacy-style living hole that swallows up everything it can. Do I really need to explain the appeal of something like this?
Let It Die
…In retrospect, maybe highlighting this game (and particularly this trailer) isn’t the smartest move after some of the topics we discussed today concerning potential violence, but I trust Suda 51 to treat something like this with more tongue-in-cheek black comedy that’s less awkward. At least god, I hope it turns out okay…
Geometry Wars 3: Dimensions
…Yes, we get both the return of Sierra and the return of the hit arcade shooter Geometry Wars in one package. And thus the public rejoiced.
Saints Row: Gat out of Hell
So the Saints Row saga may be wrapped up, but why not have one last bit of standalone DLC to help go out with a bang? And given how the series has escalated over the years, are any of us honestly surprised that said bang involves Johnny Gat fighting Satan? Also, I will bet even money on a moment where you get to beat Hitler to death with a giant dildo. You know they’ll do it.
…It was a tough call between this and Costume Quest 2 for the Double Fine game to highlight from PAX Prime, but Massive Chalice is still no less worthy of our attention. Double Fine’s take on an epic strategy game inspired by Game of Thrones is shaping up to be rather incredible, even if it won’t have the incest.
Ray’s the Dead
Yes, they had a second (successful) Kickstarter for this game. You may question a second Kickstarter campaign, but I dare you to question any game where you get to control your own ’80s zombie army as if it were an even more comedic version of Return of the Living Dead.
So BioWare finally lifted the curtain on their brand new RPG, a 4-versus-1 multiplayer game where a party of four traverse a bunch of obstacles set up by another player controlling an evil lord, which I think kind of sounds familiar. Nonetheless, modern fantasy is always a plus.
And thus we reach the end of another edition of Robotic Gaming Monthly. Sorry we didn’t have the Retro Game Showcase this time around, but after thirty trailers, I kind of figured that was enough for now. Thanks for dropping by, feel free to leave any comments offering suggestions, questions, additional discussions on what we talked about, or messages about how much we suck (something sadly tells me we’ll be getting more this time around) and remember, Danganronpa 2 comes out today, so don’t expect to hear from me for about a week! See you next time!
Previous Editions of Robotic Gaming Monthly:
– Robotic Gaming Monthly #3 – Rapture, Road Not Taken, and Ripping on Pre-Orders
– Robotic Gaming Monthly #2 – Splatoon, Sunset Overdrive and Shoveling Up The Past
– Robotic Gaming Monthly #1 – Kinect, Kinkiness, And Various Kicked Asses