It’s that time of year diehard Nintendo fans call “January,” when we know the least about the rest of the year despite it also being when we want to know about it the most. So then us fans all get together and make unreasonable guesses about what the rest of the year might look like, but ultimately, nobody guesses correctly outside of an anonymous 4chan poster. So, that’s the time of the year it is. “January.” It’s both a testament to the endurance of the human spirit and the power of imagination, as well as a masturbatory exercise in self-loathing. Happy January, everyone!
Below is my list of things that will happen this year, minus the collapse of the natural world and the rise of the New World Order. These month-by-month predictions are separated into Main Attraction (announced or rumored big thing that will definitely happen), Backup (announced or rumored smaller things that will definitely happen), and Wild Card (unannounced thing of varying size that may not but probably still will definitely happen). They should be roughly as accurate as last year’s predictions. Happy future, everyone!
Main Attraction: New Super Mario Bros. U Deluxe
EZPZ. This game has already been announced for a worldwide launch on January 11.
Backup: Travis Strikes Again, Mario and Luigi: Bowser’s Inside Story, PIranha Plant
Mario and Luigi: Bowser’s Inside Story will launch alongside New Super Mario Bros. U Deluxe on January 11 while Travis Strikes Again drops exactly one week later. Smash’s Piranha Plant DLC will be the only first-party surprise of the month, and it will drop January 25 to keep those Friday specials rolling.
Wild Card: Mother Trilogy
Unless we also get Mother Trilogy, because this is the year. I… can… feel… it… About as much as I felt it last year and the year before that. But this year I say we’re getting the whole trilogy instead of just Mother 3 because when you shoot for the moon you land among Mothers.
Main Attraction: Metroid Prime Trilogy
Although technically unannounced, a Metroid Prime Trilogy port was heavily rumored by so-called industry insiders in late 2018 and, like last year’s Bayonetta collection (which was also released in February) did for Bayonetta 3, this would stoke the hype flames around Metroid Prime 4. It just makes too much sense…which, given Nintendo, means this may not happen after all.
Backup: Untitled Goose Game, Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles, Wonderful 101 Port
Untitled Goose Game doesn’t have a release date, but if they’re willing to release it untitled why wouldn’t they release it otherwise unfinished, if need be? Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles also doesn’t have a release date, but it will be the first of many FFs to release next year because it’s the one people want least. Finally, a Wonderful 101 port will support the as-yet-unannounced Wonderful 102 coming exclusively to Switch next year.
Wild Card: Switch Fit
In a stubborn attempt to prove they are not just a games company, Nintendo will release a revamped version of their old “quality of life initiative” called Switch Fit. It will focus on both physical and mental health and be sort of a hybrid Wii Fit/Brain Age for the fitbit generation. Nintendo will also strike a deal with the federal government to subsidize the cost of the game for anyone covered by Obamacare. Or we might just get Pikmin 3 HD.
Main Attraction: Animal Crossing
Animal Crossing will launch in March to help Nintendo sell 20 million Switches by the end of the fiscal year. It will manage to just barely meet that goal, and it will clearly be thanks to Animal Crossing. The game will feature increased connectivity between towns and feature a wide variety of mini-games, both of which will be used to push Nintendo Switch Online. In a shocking turn of events, it will not receive a subtitle.
Backup: Mario Kart Tour, Resident Evil
Mario Kart Tour will release as a surprisingly robust experience and will even feature an online multiplayer mode that will become a series staple. Still, fans will clamor for a true follow-up to Mario Kart 8, since many of the tracks will be dumbed-down versions of classic courses. Resident Evil will also release as a perfect “adult” complement to Animal Crossing.
Wild Card: Point-and-Shoot Gallery
Announced in the January Direct, Point-and-Shoot Gallery will drop on the eShop in March. It’ll be a mash-up of past Nintendo “shooters” Duck Hunt, Hogan’s Alley, and Link’s Crossbow Training, and will feature a new Nintendo-fied Time Crisis-like adventure mode. It will be the first in a loosely affiliated series of “gimmick” games that take advantage of the unique properties of the Joy-Cons.
Main Attraction: Yoshi’s Crafted World
In honor of cute baby animals, metaphorical rebirth, and incoming allergies, Yoshi’s Crafted World will drop shortly after the start of Spring. It will be shockingly good and the first game in the series to fully step out of the original’s shadow by thoroughly exploring the stage-flipping mechanic. It will be the highest-selling Yoshi game to date by a significant margin.
Backup: Shovel Knight, Super Meat Boy Forever, Mortal Kombat 11, FFVII, Skyward Sword HD
As announced, indie darling Shovel Knight: King of Cards will launch April 9 followed by Super Meat Boy Forever later in the month and Mortal Kombat 11 on April 23. Final Fantasy VII will also drop to massive sales, as will Skyward Sword HD, which will make several quality of life improvements to the original game including multiple control schemes.
Wild Card: WarioWare: Shake and Bake, Joker
WarioWare: Shake and Bake will launch on 4/20 as Labo did last year. Its main mode will be a fairly typical onslaught of micro-games that dive into the limitless possibilities of the Joy-Con. It will also feature an unexpectedly deep culinary side mode called Cooking Wawa. Finally, Persona 5 R will release with the Joker Smash DLC on the same day.
Main Attraction: Fire Emblem: Three Houses
Fire Emblem: Three Houses will launch with a bevy of new tedious army-related mechanics. While the core gameplay will be as strong as ever, the story will be less ambitious than anticipated and those new army mechanics will make high-difficulty playthroughs an unfortunate slog. Some people will be disappointed by the game’s waifus while others swoon over them. None of those people will feel ashamed.
Backup: Team Sonic Racing
Team Sonic Racing will be pretty good, but most cart racing fans will be playing Mario Kart Tour or waiting for Crash Team Racing. Someone’s “Gotta go last”!
Wild Card: Super Mario 64 Deluxe Ultra Remix for Switch
This game will basically be Super Mario 64 in HD, but it will also include eleven of the levels cut from the original refurbished for the modern player’s palette. Players will be able to turn off and on many of Odyssey’s conveniences, such as not having to exit a level after nabbing a star, and some of the game’s signature speedrun glitches will be intentionally retained. Its absurd name will be proof that even though Nintendo is in the midst of a stellar rebranding, they are still Nintendo.
Main Attraction: Daemon X Machina
Daemon X Machina will be an underwhelming mech shooter game that gains a cult following and eventually a much-improved sequel that Nintendo plays a greater role in developing. It will be short and unpolished, but it will sell relatively well since the Switch is lacking in mechs.
Backup: Crash Team Racing Nitro-Fueled, Final Fantasy IX, Resident Evil 0
Fans of each series will be happy to see these games on Switch, though other games in their series or genres will outshine them by year’s end.
Wild Card: Mario Golf Mobile, Overwatch, Tracer, Paper Mario: Planet Peach
We will get the Mario Golf game we all want but not on the platform we want it on. It will, however, feature RPG mechanics that blow Mario Tennis Aces out of the water and will eventually tie into Mario Golf Hole-in-One releasing for Switch in early 2020. We will also get an Overwatch port on Switch and Tracer as a Smash DLC character the same day. Finally, Paper Mario: Planet Peach will be a return to form for the series, but will have players play as Paper Peach scouring the galaxy for Mario. It will make use of some of the clever gameplay concepts introduced in the 2005 DS game Super Princess Peach and it will be hilarious. During chapter interludes, the player will play as Mario, who is being held hostage on Planet Peach by the one and only Bowsette.
Main Attraction: Town
The headliner for this month is the upcoming JRPG from GameFreak, Town. Though its world is small in scope, the game will be lengthy and strategically deep. Much like Octopath Traveler, which was July’s headliner in 2018, Town’s uniquely limiting structure will be its greatest shortcoming as well as one of its greatest strengths.
Backup: Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night
July’s backup will be Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night, the long-awaited crowdfunded Igavania. Although some early builds received mixed reception, the final game will rival Symphony of the Night and will feature a surprise not unlike Symphony’s inverted castle.
Wild Card: Endless Ocean: End of Days, Pikmin 4
Endless Ocean: End of Days will mark a return for the Endless Ocean franchise, though it will blend elements of survival horror into the core oceanic exploration experience. Nintendo’s riff off Subnautica will be even more terrifying since it will be built around the real-life horror of climate change and take place across rapidly dying seascapes such as coral reefs and the Arctic Sea. The final boss will be Dick Cheney riding an oily, deformed Leviathan. Or we might just get Pikmin 4.
Main Attraction: Shin Megami Tensei V, Dragon Quest XI
July won’t be the only month headlined by JRPGs. This month, we will get DQXI and SMTV, each with meddling Switch-exclusive content. Neither will sell well outside of Japan, where they will sell like the hottest of cakes.
Backup: Dragon Quest Builders 2, Final Fantasy X/X-2
Doubling down on JRPGs with re-releases and spin-offs, August will also see the launches of Dragon Quest Builders 2 and FFX/X-2. Playing FFX on the Switch will be great, but the biggest surprise will be Dragon Quest Builders 2, which for many will be a surprise game of the year candidate.
Wild Card: Tomodachi Life 2: Also End of Days, The Witcher 3: Breath of the Wild Hunt, Geralt of Rivia
Tomodachi Life 2: Also End of Days will be at once a fanciful life sim as well as sardonic social commentary on our global culture’s erosion of privacy and self-obsessive descent into a technocratic hellscape. The final boss will be Mark Zuckerberg riding his own arrogance. Though he won’t be much of a threat on his own, he will be flanked by his faithful Siberian Husky summon, StockDrop. It will be developed by Ubisoft and there will be Far Cry 5 hats. We will also get The Witcher 3: Breath of the Wild Hunt, which will be identical to the original The Witcher 3 except Geralt will be able to climb some things. Geralt will simultaneously release as a DLC character in Smash, where he will also be able to climb some things.
Main Attraction: Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3: The Black Order
Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3: The Black Order will be enjoyable in co-op but most will wonder why it didn’t release alongside Avengers: Endgame in April. And the answer is something that has to do with the MCU that I can foresee but do not understand since I don’t care about it. But just you Marvel fanatics wait and see!
Backup: Kirby’s Extra Epic Yarn
In this surprisingly lackluster month, a 3DS port is happy to play second fiddle. It’ll be Kirby’s Epic Yarn with a little something Extra, and the world will be ever-so-slightly better off for it.
Wild Card: Unmapped
In September, Retro will reveal that they have spent the past five years BBQ-ing up a generic single-player third-person action game with a supposedly mature by-the-numbers narrative. It will be Nintendo’s take on Sony’s brand of action-adventure games such as Uncharted, The Last of Us, God of War, and Horizon: Zero Dawn (which true blue Nintendo fans know are actually all the same game passed through different visual filters). Everyone will call it a masterpiece and it will be a game of the year contender, but by 2023 it will be widely regarded as Retro’s worst game and people will clamor for more Donkey Kong. Then when the Switch Classic Edition is released in 2034, it will include Star Fox Grand Prix, which Retro’s secret B team finished but never released due to Starlink’s shoddy sales.
Main Attraction: Luigi’s Mansion 3
Despite seeming a bit too on-the-nose, the second sequel to Luigi’s Mansion will launch in October to capitalize on Halloween. And if by some fluke it launches earlier in the year, it will receive seasonal DLC in October. Either way, it will feature one giant hotel-mansion with a massive outdoor area including a swimming pool Luigi can awkwardly dive off of. It will also feature some unique ghost-catching mechanics, but its biggest draw will be its couch/online multiplayer, which will use the same map as the single player campaign but alter the location and difficulty of enemies. Both in and out of this co-op mode, players can play as Mario, Luigi, Peach, or Toad, and there will also be a Nintendoland-influenced battle mode where players can play as ghosts.
Backup: Resident Evil 4
Pssshhh… “Backup.” GOAT!
Wild Card: The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Dreams, Leon Kennedy
When announced at E3, A Link Between Dreams will initially appear to be a direct sequel to the Game Boy classic Link’s Awakening. But upon release players will discover first-hand that it actually takes place during Link’s century-long slumber that he awakens from at the very start of Breath of the Wild. Taking place in Link’s subconscious after the three timelines have merged will make A Link Between Dreams the most surreal and unpredictable Zelda to date. In keeping with this merged timeline subconscious theme, it will combine and twist overworlds, dungeons, characters, and items from throughout the franchise. We will also get Leon Kennedy and Ashley as an Ice-Climber-like duo in Smash. Leon will be a formidable and sassy opponent, but also-sassy Ashley will take double damage and the player will lose a life whenever either of them dies. Fortunately, Leon’s down B will conjure a dumpster in which Ashley can take refuge.
Main Attraction: Pokemon: Wild and Tame
Wild and Tame will release in mid-November and be billed as the must-have Switch title of the year. It will be a fairly typical “core” Pokemon game, but will borrow several quality of life improvements from Let’s Go, including the elimination of random battles. It will also introduce a new “catchability” meter that determines how easy it is to catch an individual Pokemon based on its personal history. It won’t get as many new Pokemon as an average gen, but will feature many more variants of the original 151 a la Pokemon Sun and Moon, some of which will include particularly wild or dolled-up versions to fit the games’ central theme.
Backup: DOOM: Eternal, Final Fantasy XII: The Zodiac Age
This trio will be the month’s major third-party headliners and will sate gamers too “mature” for adorable pocket-able monsters (though are such gamers ever truly sated?).
Wild Card: Mario Kart 9
Mario Kart 9 will supplement Pokemon for a no-holes-barred Black Friday banger. It will feature integration with Mario Kart Tour, a limited and disappointing track editor, a huge variety of playable characters, an adventure mode, and a reworked battle mode. Much as the graphic of “8” in MK8’s title showcased anti-grav, the graphic of “9” in MK9 will be a tribute to its hyper-fast sections of tracks, where players race at 250cc and their vehicles become hazardous to touch, as in F-Zero. Its Blue Shell will be terribly imbalanced.
Main Attraction: Bayonetta 3
Although no official release date has been given for Bayonetta 3, a December release would give it a holiday time slot that the similarly niche Xenoblade Chronicles 2 had in 2017 to supplement the broader appeal of Pokemon: Wild and Tame. Like Smash in 2018, it will launch the day of The Game Awards, where DLC for the game will be announced.
Backup: Super Mario 3D World Port, Star Fox Grand Prix, or Metroid Prime 4
We may get Metroid Prime 4 instead of Bayonetta 3, though Bayo is more likely. If we get Metroid, it will have a mission-based structure, take place on one world that builds off the original Prime’s Tallon IV, and feature several new abilities while also removing some introduced in Metroid Prime 2 and 3. Sylux will appear to be the main villain, but the end game will reveal Ridley, Kraid, and Grandmother Brain were pulling the strings. Whether we get Bayo or Metroid, we will also get either a Super Mario 3D World port or the long-rumored Star Fox Grand Prix to appeal to a wider audience. Nintendo will more or less have to go this hard to meet their fiscal year sales goal of 30 million.
Wild Card: Chrono Resurrection, Chrono
Also at The Game Awards, we will get the surprise announcement and day-and-date drop of the final Smash DLC character: Chrono. The third game in the storied Chrono franchise, Chrono Resurrection, will also be announced as a Switch exclusive, and will take place in between Trigger and Cross.
And then you will faintly hear a voice murmur “open your eyes.” And then the real you will awaken to the sight of Reggie standing over you wearing a Sigmund Freud pin, unto a world in which none of these magnificent predictions came true, for the real world cannot contain such untempered glory.
PAX South 2020 Hands-On: ‘Ghostrunner,’ ‘Everspace 2,’ and ‘Wrath: Aeon of Ruin’
We’ve already covered a wide variety of the games on display at PAX South this year, from retro revivals to unorthodox romances to everything in between – and we’re not done yet! In this next roundup article, we cover three more ambitious, action-packed games: Ghostrunner, Everspace 2, and Wrath: Aeon of Ruin.
Ghostrunner was one of the most in-demand games at PAX, and after playing it, it’s easy to see why. This first-person action slasher, developed by One More Level and produced by 3D Realms, lets players dash through the air, run across walls, and slash through enemies at blistering speed all while exploring a dystopian cyberpunk world. It’s gorgeous, lightning fast, and feels amazing to play.
Ghostrunner begins in a broken future, where the remnants of humanity have hidden away in a single condensed tower. Naturally enough, you’re put in the role of the one rebel who dares to rise up against the forces oppressing humanity. As you begin your uprising, you’ll also encounter a grand mystery – why is humanity the way it is now? Just what happened to the rest of the world? And what’s that voice you hear in your head?
My demo didn’t offer much illumination to these mysteries, but the 3D Realms team assured me that the story plays a significant role in the main campaign. What my demo did offer, however, was a look into the fast-paced, brutal gameplay that defines the game. Combat is so dynamic in Ghostrunner. Your arsenal of moves is massive and varied – of course you can run, jump, and slash with your katana, but you can also run along walls, dash over chasms, slow down time to dodge bullets, and more.
When all the moving pieces flow together, Ghostrunner achieves a visceral, almost hypnotic flow of battle. There are a few obstacles to this feeling. The controls took a bit of getting used to on my end, but that would be because, console peasant that I am, I’m not used to playing 3D games on a keyboard instead of a controller. Also, this may be an action game, but at many times it feels more like a puzzle game. With bloodthirsty enemies scattered around each environment, you’ll often need to take a step back and methodically evaluate which abilities to use in each situation. This can take some trial and error – it might have taken me more than a few tries to clear out the final wave of enemies. But when the solution works out, it’s a beautifully exhilarating feeling, and that’s what sets Ghostrunner apart.
Wrath: Aeon of Ruin
PAX featured plenty of retro-styled games, but not many quite like Wrath: Aeon of Ruin. This retro-style FPS is a throwback to the simpler, faster days of shooters, built entirely in the same engine as the original Quake. It was even based off the work of Quake community modders. If you’ve played any classic FPS like the original DOOM or Wolfenstein, then you should have a good idea of how Wrath plays: it’s brutal, lightning fast, and action packed.
My demo got straight to the point. After teleporting me to a distant hellscape, I was faced with a horde of demons, ranging from simple skeletons to more aggressive ogre-like enemies and flying laser monsters. Thankfully, I was also given an assortment of weapons to take these creatures down with, including a simple handgun, a powerful blade arm, and my personal favorite, a shotgun. Each one of these felt good to control, and like any good old-fashioned shooter, they gave me a great feeling of power.
Like any good, brutal FPS in the vein of Quake, Wrath features an insane amount of mobility. Movement is extremely fast and fluid, allowing you to zip across and above stages with reckless abandon. This extra speed will be necessary, especially considering that enemies can slaughter on with reckless, overwhelming abandon.
Of course, being built in the original Quake engine, Wrath is a delightfully retro treat to behold. It features all the signature hard polygonal edges of PC shooters from that bygone era, but with the added smoothness and fluidity of modern hardware. The game feels great to play and is a unique treat to behold. Wrath is currently available on Steam Early Access, and there’s plenty of new content that can be expected throughout the year, including new levels, enemies, and even a full online multiplayer mode. Stuffed with violent retro action, Wrath: Aeon of Ruin is absolutely worth watching out for.
Space is the final frontier, offering limitless exploration This’s the exact feeling that Everspace 2 captures. This sandbox open world space shooter dumps you in outer space and leaves you to figure out the rest, allowing you to fight, scavenge, and explore as you will, all with an incredible amount of freedom.
It’s a remarkably beautiful game too, boasting of extremely detailed 3D graphics that wouldn’t look out of place in a full 3D AAA experience. It’s extremely ambitious, offering a wealth of customization options through parts that can be scavenged from fallen space craft or space debris. There’s alien life to discover and a wealth of locations to explore, with the full game apparently featuring more than 80 unique environments.
These environments will always be interesting to explore thanks to a mix between handcrafted worlds and randomization. The original Everspace was a pure roguelike, and as developer Rockfish Games told me, this constantly changing design has often been fundamental to previous great space shooters. Although Rockfish opted for an intentionally designed open world for the sequel, they want to maintain some of those same roguelike elements. That’s why whenever you venture through the many galaxies of Everspace 2, the galaxies and planets will be the same, but the items you find or enemies you encounter within them may change each time.
It took me some time to get used to Everspace. It immediately offers a great amount of freedom, with the demo simply dumping me in space and only requiring that I take down some enemy units and pick up some loot. Yet once I got the hang of the controls and the environment, it became extremely fluid and natural to zip through space, upgrade different components, and experience all the free-flowing action that it has to offer. Space is the ultimate freedom, and Everspace 2 is set to represent that.
PAX South 2020 Hands-On: ‘Windjammers 2,’ ‘KUNAI,’ and ‘Young Souls’
PAX South 2020 attracted tons of exciting publishers to San Antonio, and even with such a crowded lineup, the DotEmu and Arcade Crew booth easily stood out as some of the show’s very best exhibitors. Streets of Rage 4 might have been their standout demo, but the French boutique publisher and developers brought a fantastic selection of games to the show, including their signature retro revivals and some promising original indie games of their own.
Sequel to the much-beloved arcade classic, Windjammers 2 takes all the hectic frisbee-throwing action of the original and updates it for the modern generation. For those unfamiliar with the art of windjamming, it’s effectively pong, but instead of balls, you toss discs back and forth across the court. It pits two players against each other on opposite sides of the court, tasking you with mercilessly hurling your disc back and forth until it gets into your opponent’s goal.
You can just throw the disc directly at your opponent, but Windjammers 2 gives you many more options besides that. To really excel at the game, you’ll have to make use of the most extravagant moves you can, dashing across the court, leaping into the air, tossing the disc above you before slamming it down into your opponent, to list only a few of the uber-athletic abilities at your disposal. The game can move extremely quickly when both players take advantage of these capabilities, yet things never feel overwhelming. I always felt in control of the action, even when my quickest reflexes were put to the test. It’s fast-paced disc throwing insanity, and I couldn’t get enough of it.
Just like the rest of DotEmu’s catalogue, Windjammers 2 combines classic gameplay with gorgeous modern aesthetics. It has the same hand-drawn style that makes other DotEmu titles stand out, like Wonderboy: The Dragon’s Trap. The original Windjammers was a time capsule of garish 90s style, and that design is retained for the new release, with characters looking even more colorful and absurd than ever thanks to the revitalized art and animations. Hectic to play and beautiful to behold, Windjammers 2 is already set to be a multiplayer hit.
Streets of Rage 4 was certainly the premier beat ‘em up on display at DotEmu’s booth, but it wasn’t the only one. Alongside this retro revival was an all-new take on the genre: Young Souls, an extremely stylish action game that blends fast-paced fighting with deep RPG customization and a charming, emotional narrative.
Beat ‘em ups might not be known for deep storylines, but Young Souls aspires to something more. Along with its satisfying combat mechanics and plentiful flexibility for character builds, it also boasts of having “a profound story with unforgettable characters.” While my demo didn’t give me much of a look at this deep narrative, it’s reasonable to assume that the story will at least be quality, since it’s penned by none other than the author of the Walking Dead games, Matthew Ritter.
However, I did get a substantial feel for combat. Young Souls features more than 70 monster-filled dungeons, and I got to venture into two of them in my demo. The action feels weighty and solid when going up against enemies, yet precise at the same time. Like any classic beat ‘em up, there’s a mixture of light and heavy attacks, along with blocks and powerful special moves, along with items and spells to exploit during combat as well. In between battles, you’re able to deck your character out in equipment and items, allowing for an element of roleplaying depth that isn’t typically associated with action games like this. In my short time with the game, it was fun to experiment with different character builds, which could determine the speed and abilities of my fighter, promising combat for the final game.
I played the demo both solo and co-op; in single-player, you’re able to switch between the two twins at will, while two players can each take control of a sibling. In both playstyles, the gameplay was just as visceral and satisfying as one would expect from a classic-style beat ‘em up like this, but the addition of a deep story and RPG mechanics put a unique spin on this entry. That’s not to mention that, like every other game at the DotEmu and Arcade Crew booth, it’s visually beautiful, featuring stylish 2D characters in 3D environments that are all rendered in gentle, washed-out colors. Young Souls might not have a release date or even any confirmed platforms as of now, but it’s absolutely worth keeping an eye on in the meantime.
KUNAI takes the typical metroidvania formula and boosts it to hyperspeed. It has all the hidden secrets and massively interconnected world exploration that you’d expect from the genre, and it gives you the ability to speed through that faster and more dynamically than ever. Its main gimmick is right in the name – by giving you two kunai hookshots, you’re able to traverse up and down your environments with speed and freedom, making for a uniquely vertical method to explore.
KUNAI starts out with the end of the world. In a dystopian future where technology has taken over, you control Tabby, a sentient and heroic tablet that’s dead set on liberating the planet. This serious plot is filled with plenty of personality, however, from the silly faces that Tabby makes in action to the charming dialogue and quirky character designs. This personality is rendered in appealing detail thanks to the game’s simple yet effective pixel art.
It’s in the gameplay where KUNAI truly shines. With the eponymous kunai, you’re able to latch onto vertical surfaces. Combine this with the additional abilities to dash, bounce off enemies, or wall jump, and it provides for a uniquely dynamic method of exploring the world. Using the kunai feels easy and intuitive, fast enough to gain speed but never too floaty. It’s a balanced approach to speed and movement that never gets out of control, resulting in what it is perhaps the best-feeling movement of any metroidvania I’ve played recently. My demo was brief, and ended very soon after first getting the kunai, but the gameplay felt so smooth and natural that I can’t wait to experience more of it. Thankfully, it’s not long to wait, since KUNAI hits Switch and PC on February 6.
PAX South Hands-On: ‘Streets of Rage 4’ Balances Legacy and Innovation
Streets of Rage 4 embodies the original series’ elegant, action-packed design and revives it for a new generation.
From the moment I began my demo with Streets of Rage 4 at PAX South, it felt like coming home. It might have been more than two decades since the first three games in the Streets of Rage series perfected the beat ‘em up formula on the Sega Genesis, but courtesy of developers Lizardcube, DotEmu, and Guard Crush, this legendary series is back and in good hands. This brand new entry aims to recapture all the style and balance of the originals, while introducing innovations of its own. If my demo is any indication, the game is set to achieve that.
Streets of Rage 4 uses the same elegant level design that set the original trilogy apart back on the Genesis. The gameplay is simple: keep walking to the right, taking out every enemy in front of you with all the jabs, kicks, jumps, and special moves at your disposal. If anything, the controls feel better than ever before, with an added level of precision and fluidity that simply wasn’t possible on older hardware.
That’s not to mention the new move sets. Beat ’em ups might not be the most complex genre around, but Streets of Rage 4 adds the perfect level of depth to the combat. It has the same simple jabs and kicks found in the original games, but spiced up with the potential for new combos and even a handful of extravagant new special moves. With new and old fighting mechanics, this new entry features plenty of room to experiment with combat but never loses the simple, arcade-like charm of the originals.
Streets of Rage 4 revives the series’ rage-filled and action-packed style for the twenty-first century
The demo included series staple characters like Axel and Blaze, yet I opted to play as an all-new character: Cherry Hunter, a guitar-wielding fighter whose move set felt very distinct from classic characters. Her movement is speedy, certainly faster than Axel but slower than Blaze, and her guitar provided for some unique melee moves. Like the new mechanics, her addition to the character roster helps shake up the Streets of Rage formula just enough, while maintaining the core beat ’em up simplicity that made the series special in the first place.
Streets of Rage 4 might innovate in a few areas, but one thing that’s clearly remained true to form is the difficulty. It boasts of the same old school difficulty that characterized the original games. The classic and brand new enemies are just as ruthless as ever, mercilessly crowding in around you and can easily overwhelm you if you’re not careful. However, just like the originals, the fighting feels so satisfying that it’s easy to keep coming back for more action.
Amid all these changes and additions, perhaps the most obvious (and controversial) change is the visual style. While the original series used detailed pixel art, Streets of Rage 4 instead boasts of an extremely detailed handcrafted art style, in which every frame of character animation is painstakingly drawn by hand and environments are colorful and painterly. Thousands of frames of animation go into each character, and the effort certainly shows, making every punch, kick, and other acts of violence a breathtaking sight to behold.
Streets of Rage 4 reimagines this classic series for a new generation, reintroducing the best of the beat ’em up genre for players of all backgrounds and experiences.
Some fans have complained that the game loses the series’ spirit without pixel art, but DotEmu marketing director Arnaud De Sousa insisted to me that this simply isn’t the case. Pixel art wasn’t an artistic choice back then – it was a matter of necessity. If the developers could have designed the game to look exactly as they wanted, regardless of technical limitations, then it likely would have looked just like the luscious hand-drawn visuals of the current Streets of Rage 4.
That’s not to mention that, as De Sousa emphasized, the Streets of Rage games are defined by looking different from one another. The third game looks different from the second, which looked different from the first – and now this new entry has twenty years of change to catch up on. Thus, it only makes sense for this new entry to adopt a radically new graphical style after all this time.
Streets of Rage 4 reimagines this classic series for a new generation, reintroducing the best of the beat ’em up genre for players of all backgrounds and experiences. The difference between De Sousa and myself is perfect evidence of that. He grew up playing the games in the 90s, whereas I wasn’t even born when the original trilogy became such a phenomenon and only played them years later in subsequent re-releases. Yet here we were, standing in the middle of a crowded convention and gushing about decades-old games. We might have had extremely different experiences with the series, but that didn’t stop us from appreciating the joys of stylish beat ’em up action.
“A good game is a good game,” De Sousa told me, “no matter how old.” That’s the attitude that Streets of Rage 4 exemplifies. It revives the series’ rage-filled and action-packed design for the twenty-first century. And with a release on all modern platforms, more players than ever will be able to rediscover the simple pleasure of wielding your bare knuckles against thugs of all types. Between the new art style and the solid gameplay, Streets of Rage 4 is looking like an incredibly welcome return for this iconic franchise.
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