2017 was such an incredible year for video games that chances are, most gamers will be playing catch up with all the great titles they didn’t have a chance to play well into 2018. And if you are one of those gamers and you have a large backlog of games, you best get started soon because 2018 looks to be another banner year for the industry.
We here at Goomba Stomp have gone ahead with our yearly tradition of providing you with a list of our most anticipated games. Last year, almost every game we chose wound up somewhere in our list of the best games of the year. Hopefully, the majority of these picks will equally impress us, if not, exceed our expectations. Here is the second part of our list.
The Last of Us Part II
It’s a testament to the brilliance of the 2013 original that, despite having released only two inscrutable if tantalising trailers to date (trailers which ask far more questions than they answer), The Last of Us Part II won the award for most anticipated forthcoming title at the 2017 Video Game Awards just a couple of short weeks ago.
I mean, aside from creator Neil Druckmann’s declaration at the 2016 PlayStation Experience that an older, wiser, more bitter Ellie will be taking over protagonist duties from Joel, the only specific information we have regarding the highly-anticipated sequel is that the game will focus on hate, rather than love, and will feature a mysterious cult characterised by its penchant for disembowelment and disarming people (almost literally) with household tools.
But, for fans like myself, that’s more than enough to be going on with. We know inimitable developer Naughty Dog is at the helm, after all, which in turn means we can reasonably expect to be enjoying another rich and engrossing narrative when we finally get our hands on the game, filled to bursting with incredible characters, high-octane action set-pieces, and zombified fungus mutants inspired by a BBC nature documentary; set within a post-apocalypse that never feels tired and derivative.
With no release window provided as yet, let alone a definitive date, however, I’d say there’s a better than even chance we won’t see The Last of Us Part II until 2019 at the earliest. Still, we can dream.
Mega Man 11
The last few years have been rough for retro-style game fans. Kickstarter has been a rough place to be if you’re a fan of a particular developer, as dev teams and directors behind titles like Banjo-Kazooie and the original Mega Man floundered to recapture what made those games special (even if other people have already done that for them). It seemed like there was no hope for a new “blue bomber” following the disappointment of Mighty No. 9. Capcom had been quiet and resting and their laurels, and maybe throwing a bone to fans every once in a while with Mega Man cameos in fighting games or HD repackagings… at least until the past winter when we got our first look at Mega Man 11.
I am of the mindset that I never want to go in getting too excited about things until I’ve had a chance to play them, but Mega Man 11 is one of those few rule breakers. The visual style in the trailer feels like a natural evolution of the franchise. I know there are plenty of people who would want to see a continuation of the pixel style seen in 9 and 10, but Capcom has done the franchise some visual justice that no other fan-game or “creator revival” has ever done. Sleek, stylish, and back on track, Mega Man is looking to make an amazing return in 2018. (Taylor Smith)
Metroid Prime 4
No, it hasn’t been officially confirmed for release in 2018, but a sequel to one of the greatest series of all time bears exception. Announced back at E3 2017 during one of Nintendo’s greatest E3 presentations in recent memory, Metroid Prime 4 looks to build upon an impressive resume set by the previous three games and bring yet another heavy hitter to Nintendo’s hottest selling console. While we’ve seen nary a hair of Metroid Prime 4, the game remains Nintendo’s largest on the horizon and one that, if it lives up to expectations, is sure to bring about a new era of excellence for the Switch and fans of the Metroid series alike. (Iszak Barnette)
Despite the industry move to largely online experiences, we are somewhat spoiled for great single-player shooters. The recent Doom and Wolfenstein games from Machine Games, the Far Cry and Shadow Warrior series, and indie titles like Dusk or Immortal Redneck have all kept the torch lit in the early days of gaming alight. One series that’s done extremely well was the Metro series, based on the post-apocalyptic novels by Dmitry Glukhovsky, and after an extended gap, we’re finally returning to the beautiful hell of the Moscow underground.
Or rather, partially returning, as from the two explosive trailers reveal that much of this game is going to take place topside, and the name itself alludes to leaving Moscow in search of something better. Once again players will be filling the radiated shoes of Artyom, a young but skilled ranger who seems adept at surviving everything the Metro can throw at him. There are monsters of both the beast and man variety, cobbled together weapons, and new to Exodus is the inclusion of large, non-linear levels that you’ll explore with your punk-as-hell Russian steam engine. Overall it looks like what fans loved from the series is still going to be there, but this time it’s bringing a lot more to the table, and that’s more than enough to get excited about. (Andrew Vandersteen)
Mulaka is an action-adventure game created by Mexican developer Lienzo, due to be released early this year. Inspired by the ancient culture and mythology of the Tarahumara tribe, Mulaka looks absolutely stunning, bringing a curious ?kami vibe entangled with the animatic charm of The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker.
The setting of ancient America is unique in itself, with the beautiful spirit of nature residing across the map and in the people you meet; the ability to transform into some of Mexico’s and ancient America’s most spiritual animals, such as a bear or an eagle, appears to be part of solving some of the puzzles. The adventure confronts you with many challenges, particularly some gorgeously animated creatures that each require different techniques to defeat. From the Nintendo Direct last year, some appear to be based on the Native American myth of the Chenoo, a kind of elemental golem from the region.
The emphasis on ancient American cultures, combined with gameplay inspired by The Legend of Zelda, places Mulaka as one of the games to watch for this year. It’s already won the award for the best game in the National Games MX Contest, and with its release imminent, we will all soon find out why. (James Baker)
Monster Hunter World
Monster Hunter finally makes the leap back to home consoles this month, and fans are simply foaming at the mouth to get back into the hunt. Luckily, Capcom has provided players with a couple betas to whet their appetites, and the impressions are very promising. The basic Monster Hunter feel is alive and well in World, with weapons feeling fairly similar to how they felt in previous entries. The maps themselves feel dense and convoluted, with tons of secret paths and an opening connecting one area to the next. The loading times have also been completely removed thanks to the more powerful hardware, which is a blessing to longtime fans of the series.
If you’re like me, you probably didn’t realize that Melbourne has a unique coffee-house culture; but it does. Route 59 is delving deep into that world with their upcoming game, Necrobarista. In the demo previewed at PAX West, players got a chance to peek into the game’s stylishly supernatural world. With its mix of anime-inspired character designs (somewhere between FLCL and Cowboy Bebop) and somber magical-realist environments, Necrobarista is nothing if not visually striking.
Although people have described it as a 3D visual novel, Necrobarista pushes the boundaries of what most may expect from the genre. In lieu of static backgrounds and stiff character sprites, Necrobarista uses a highly stylized and cinematic presentation to place the reader into its world. Through a mix of kinetic typography, interactive environments, and dynamic camera movements, the game feels detailed, deliberate, and alive.
Blocks of dreamy prose float amidst the half-shadowed dusty air of a coffee-house cellar. The world seems to hold its breath as focus shift onto two figures opposite each other at a table. One beat. Two. Electric pulses that jolt back and forth, the camera moving and swaying to the rhythm. A necromancing barista and a ghost who wants to fight for time.
While Necrobarista’s PAX demo only gave me a sip of the game, it was enough to have me eagerly awaiting its release. (Kyle Rogacion)
Ooblets is the mishmash of Animal Crossing, Harvest Moon, and Pokemon that you never knew you wanted. Developed solely by two-person team Glumberland and published by Double-Fine, Ooblets’ greatest asset is its overly abundant cuteness and charm. The game is aesthetically similar to both Slime Rancher and Adventure Time—not necessarily in art style, but in overall tone and atmosphere. It’s evident even in its early stages that Glumberland has done a splendid job of creating a world that feels supremely inviting, silly and comforting.
Aside from just feeling all warm and fuzzy inside, there seems like there’ll be a ton to do in the world of Oob. Players start out in a small town where they can decorate and furnish their own little homes and fully customize their characters. Everyone gets a little farm to both grow ooblets and food for them, though the exact number of attainable ooblets has yet to be revealed. Once you have a decent party of ooblets you’ll be able to go out and explore the land complete with location-specific ooblets and characters. Many questions remain about the finer details of the game (i.e. can you have a home in every location? What’s the game’s endgoal? Are there gyms or competitions like in Pokemon?), but the groundwork is already laid for what could be a magical experience later this year. (Brent Middleton)
Project Octopath Traveler
Not to be its release title, Project Octopath Traveler is an upcoming RPG by Square Enix and Acquire with no official release date other than this year. The game puts players in the roles of eight different characters, all who start the game in very different ways. Each character has a unique ability that can be used when interacting with NPCs, for example; Primrose can allure characters to follow her, while Olberic can challenge characters to battle him. These unique abilities ensure every game of Project Octopath Traveler is different.
The game features turn-based battles, with a variety of weapons and elemental magic used to defeat your foes. Playable characters receive boost points, which can be stored up five at a time. During their turn, a player can use three boost points to boost a command, allowing the player to increase an ability.
The games unique animation style, coined as ‘HD-2D’ by the developers, is quite the beautiful feat. It combines 16-bit style character sprites and textures with polygonal environments and high definition effects. The gorgeous art-style is enough to put this as a game to watch out for in 2018, and hopefully, it’ll release sooner rather than later. (James Baker)
Red Dead Redemption 2
It’s probably safe to say that Red Dead Redemption 2 is the most anticipated game of 2018.Red Dead Redemption was an astounding game set in the American West. The first game was a masterpiece of western mythology and gun-slinging action. It combined the wonder of roaming the open plains with one of gaming’s best narrative stories. Like a trusty horse, Red Dead Redemption 2 is saddled with heavy expectation. Even today, Red Dead Redemption holds up amazingly well, and Rockstar announced a sequel, well a prequel, back in late 2016, and fans are chomping at the bit to immerse themselves again in the well-defined world of the unforgiving American heartland. There’s not too terribly much to know about the game, Rockstar studios are very good at keeping the lid on whatever project they’re working on. What we do know is the possible foundation- our main character is Arthur Morgan, a troubled cowboy who has riled band of people across the Wild West intent on pursuing him. There’s a possibility of seven playable characters, with the possibility of John Marston being one of them, along with the open world will lead to a mass online multiplayer experience. Red Dead Redemption 2 is set to release in the 2nd quarter or late spring of 2018. (Katrina Lind)
Sea of Thieves
Titles like Assassins’ Creed: Black Flag and Blackwake have both proven there’s a market for pirate-themed games, a market that gaming legends Rare are looking to step into with their coop pirate-sim Sea of Thieves, releasing on PC and X1 on March 20. The feature list is exhaustive, and it’s clear that this definitely needs to be on the map of anyone looking for a new coop game for their group.
Everything’s better with friends, and in Sea of Thieves that everything seems to be all-encompassing, as every action can and should be done with a group. Be that sailing across the seas, battling other ships, searching for treasure, and taking down the undead hordes that guard the riches. Even better is the promised connectivity, allowing groups to work together, or more likely duke it out both at sea and on land.
Finally, the entire thing is covered in that Rare sheen, a mix of serious craftsmanship coupled with a great sense of humour. You can fire yourself out of a cannon, eat bananas to stay healthy, and the game never seems to take itself too seriously. Everything shown about the game seems to point to a great experience, and this is certainly one to watch in the spring release window. (Andrew Vandersteen)
Shin Megami Tensei V
Hoping for a 2018 release on this one is probably a long-shot, especially since we only just recently had the official announcement that the upcoming Switch game is Shin Megami Tensei V. ATLUS has an amazing track record when it comes to their flagship series, and SMTV looks like the console-based SMT game fans wanted out of IV. There’s nothing wrong SMTIV, it’s a beautiful game, and I think being on the 3DS did it wonders in terms of sales and tolerability, but I’m happy to be back on a console with high-end graphics. The painterly style MegaTen games adopted in the PS2-era is one of my favorites, I love dramatic cel-shading. Shin Megami Tensei V’s trailer shows off a lot of the game’s visuals, and they look awesome in HD. (Taylor Smith)
The idea of a 3D Spider-Man video game sounds like heaven, but it’s not something that has been executed all that well more than perhaps once.
Many hold 2004’s Spider-Man 2 (a loose adaptation of the Sam Raimi-directed movie of the same name) in the highest esteem, touting it as the best Spider-Man game to ever exist. There’s ample reason for that, as the game was able to successfully transfer the feeling of freedom that comes with being Spider-Man, swinging around NYC all fluid and parkour-ish, like never before. There was an emphasis on movement and, frankly, style, that Spider-Man games since have foregone.
Instead, in recent years, there has been a push to linear, controlled experiences in video game outings with Spidey. While there’s nothing wrong with that idea (outside of the games being poorly received, critically), the prospect of a modern Spider-Man game that could potentially bring back the skyscraper-swinging adventures which we’ve been missing for over a decade is, well, pretty amazing.
Translating “being Spider-Man” into a believable video game is not an easy task, as there might be a bigger demand for believability and (somewhat) realism from mainstream gamers today. But, as Rocksteady did with Batman in Arkham Asylum (a game Insomniac’s Spider-Man is taking very obvious gameplay cues from, with its sneaking and combat elements), it’s all within the realm of possibility in the hands of the right team. If Sunset Overdrive is anything to go by, though, then this might indeed be the right team over at Insomniac.
While what we’ve seen so far does show some worrying signs of shoe-horned fan service within the weak-looking story (lol Miles get it?) and hand-holding quick-time event scenarios where the player simply, passively, watches Spider-Man do cool stuff (like in the Uncharted series), we’ve also seen enough of the combat and movement mechanics that should give us hope that Insomniac will let us, once again, “be” Spider-Man. (Maxwell N)
Since making its E3 debut in 2016, DONTNOD Entertainment have been crafting a cutting-edge, RPG experience that takes players back to 1918 London at the height of the Spanish-flu pandemic. As newly-turned vampire Dr. Jonathan Reid, players will find themselves constantly at battle with other creatures of the night—vampire hunters, undead Skal—and the monster within themselves. Choose between honoring the doctor’s hippocratic oath to save London’s citizens from death, or choose to satiate the doctor’s blood lust?
It’s a huge, messy conundrum the Life is Strange developers have created—a winding, interconnected web of consequences that give players the potential to destroy entire districts should they become too thirsty or too hell-bent on destruction. And making decisions between life and death will not always be easy, but this system is at the heart of Vampyr’s gameplay. Players will have to decide who to feed on, and who to spare, conscious of their need to increase their strength to prevail in combat. Jonathan’s vampire impulses will always be working against his human side, however.
Combat difficulty can be affected by player actions out of combat. Feeding, for example, provides massive XP boosts that make combat easier but can come with narrative consequences. Combat also allows Johnathan to fill his Blood Gauge; the fuller it gets, the more destructive spells and abilities he can unleash on his enemies. As players gain XP, new items on their non-linear skill tree unlock. The items can be unlocked in any order, which allows players to create their own archetypes to match their play styles.
Oh, and one other caveat—all decisions are final, so there’s no piecing back together a completely demolished London. Vampyr is slated for release Spring 2018. (Joanna Nelius)
The Walking Dead: The Final Season
While many people seem to have become somewhat bored by the repetitive nature of The Walking Dead television series – Rick’s group of resolute, at times morally questionable but ultimately good band of survivors encounter an unscrupulous rival gang, more often than not led by a charismatic leader, who they then proceed to wage war against for a season or two before triumphing – it’s fair to say that same sense of déjà vu hasn’t affected Telltale Games’ superb interactive drama series of the same name.
Over the course of four seasons, not counting the stand-alone Michonne mini-series that released in 2016, Telltale’s The Walking Dead has treated us to some truly compelling stories, changing cast and setting on a routine basis to ensure fans of the zombie apocalypse sub-genre always have something new and interesting to sink their teeth into. However, though this formula has been invaluable, the key to its success has been Clementine: an unlikely heroine who holds these disparate narratives together. And it’s the opportunity to conclude her arduous tale of seemingly endless suffering, punctuated with the occasional ray of sunshine, that has me and many others excited for next year’s finale.
Story details are thin on the ground at this stage, but it seems safe to assume the first episode at the very least will follow Clem’s attempts to locate and reunite with her adopted son AJ. What happens thereafter is harder to pin down, though, given that The Walking Dead is hardly known for its happily ever after’s, we can be similarly confident that it won’t be plain sailing for the young survivors.
Nevertheless, despite my innate pessimism, I hope The Walking Dead: The Final Season bucks the trend and gives Clementine a much-deserved break. A quiet settlement somewhere far away from the monsters (both human and undead), where she can live in peace and try to process the shocking events she’s experienced over the course of her short life (which, on my file, includes eating human flesh. Oops).
The world has been devoid of the oddly care-free, experimentally entertaining, brain bursts brought to life by visionary game director Keita Takahashi for far too long. His previous creations like Noby Noby Boy and, more famously, Katamari Damacy and We Love Katamari have lodged themselves hard into the creative consciousness of video games by this point in time and space.
Officially revealed back in 2014, Wattam seems like yet another entry in Takahashi’s catalog of positive destruction. It’s hard to discern exactly what is going around in this particular virtual playground that Wattam takes place in, outside of the fact that we (at least initially) assume the role of a mustached cube man known as “The Mayor” on our journey to “create joyful explosions” (as per the publisher’s description) and learn about the citizens in the world of Wattam (including 3D poop dudes), which seems to serve as a primary puzzle-solving mechanic. Maybe?
One thing is for sure: You’re better off expecting a fun, silly time and leaving any preconceived notions of a “video game” behind. Takahashi’s worlds don’t exactly share the stage with conventional gaming, and are better off for that. Wattam, it seems, is set to fill out that niche just as well as its predecessors. And that’s an exciting prospect.(Maxwell N)
We Happy Few
What do you get when you mix 60s psychedelia with George Orwell’s 1984? We Happy Few stood out last year, introducing a retrofuture post-war England where citizens are dependent on a hallucinogenic drug called Joy, and the streets are filled with deliriously happy and murderous neighbours. As a ‘downer’ who refuses the happy pills, you are hunted down by drug-addled citizens, forced to find places to hide and craft items for survival all while the regime’s reality is torn down around you. We Happy Few has been one to watch ever since its impressive first E3 trailer, but the game has since struggled with the misconception that it would be a heavily narrative-focused RPG, and suffered further outcry with the announcement of a price rise from the game’s original $29.99 to $50.99. However, the game price hike and partnership with Gearbox Software suggests a much better chance of the game delivering on a true open world narrative, one which makes each run through the game feel fresh and shocking, and with as many stories and hidden paths to follow as any Bioshock title. We Happy Few has certainly been the victim of its own high expectations, but with the main story still under wraps, it is perhaps time to be tentatively excited once more for the full release coming this year. We Happy Few has thus far shown creative talent that makes it undeniably original amongst other titles and if the team can deliver on a story to back up the world they’ve created we’ll certainly be in for a treat. You can currently check out We Happy Few in early access, but the game and main story mode will be released on the 13th of April. Compulsion Games have struck on a brilliant concept with We Happy Few, so with a little Joy, we hope to see them do justice to an exceptional survival horror for the spring of 2018. (Helen Jones)
Where the Water Tastes like Wine
No matter what your take on contemporary America and its role on the geopolitical stage, as a country it’s beyond remarkable. It is one of the most populous and powerful nations in history, with a rich and diverse cultural heritage that scarcely seems possible for a country that’s not even three hundred years old. From its beginnings as a colonial melting pot to its undeniable present day pre-eminence as a self-contained empire, with all the associated sorrows and triumphs in between, America has always been a treasure trove of stories. It’s these stories that serve as the conceptual inspiration for and gameplay foundation of Where the Water Tastes like Wine. An intriguing blend of “walking simulator” and interactive narrative this title promises to offer something unique in the modern gaming market.
By weaving together stories that range from the comic to the tragic, this flagship title from Dim Bulb Games presents players with the opportunity to travel across a living tapestry of gloriously grim Americana. Each tale offers its own take on the development of modern America, not from a dispassionate historical perspective but rather from a deeply personal point of view that goes beneath the States’ glamorous facade to get at the bizarre and beautiful truth. With a soundtrack that is a melancholy fusion of Bluegrass and classic Folk accompanying tales penned by an eclectic group of writers, this game uses small-scale stories to build an overall narrative that is as epic as the factual history of America as a whole. It may not be the most bombastic titles scheduled for release in 2018, but if what we’ve seen from trailers and industry expos thus far is to be believed then it is unquestionably going to be one of the most captivating and innovative games of the year. (Christopher Underwood)
Indie Games Spotlight – Going Full Circle
We’re featuring five exciting indie games in our latest spotlight, including the internship roguelike Going Under and the cozy puzzles of Lonesome Village.
Indie Games Spotlight is Goomba Stomp’s biweekly column where we highlight some of the most exciting new and upcoming independent games. Summer may have come to a close, but that hasn’t stopped big announcements from rolling in. With events like PAX Online and the recent PlayStation 5 Showcase flooding the web with announcements, trailers, and gameplay footage, there’s been a constant deluge of news to keep up with. With so much coming on the horizon, we’re spotlighting five exciting indies that you’ll be able to play sooner rather than later. Whether you’re in the mood for a brutally addictive action game or a cozy adventure and social sim, there’s bound to be a game that speaks to you in this spotlight.
Moving Up Professionally in Going Under
Work is its own payment in Going Under. In this action game from developer Aggro Crab, you’re put in the shoes of an unpaid intern who must explore the endless ruins of failed tech startups while fighting off the monsters that spawn within them. It’s hard work to do without a single paycheck—but hey, at least you’re gaining valuable experience!
As a former unpaid intern myself, the writing in Going Under certainly resonates with me and it’s sure to strike a chord with anyone who’s ever felt underappreciated or overworked. Its vibrant and colorful 3D graphics, as well as its satirical story, only make it all the more enticing. It really should offer a great working experience when it hits all consoles and PC via Steam on September 24.
Fill in the Gaps in Journey of the Broken Circle
Something’s missing in Journey of the Broken Circle. Like its name would suggest, this puzzle platformer follows a Pacman-like circle with a hole to fill. It wanders through a world that is whimsical and existential at once, searching for a companion to fill its gaps. As the circle rolls through ethereal environments, it encounters different shapes to use that allow for new gameplay mechanics.
Journey of the Broken Circle might be about an abstract shape, but in its quest to become whole, it strives to capture the human experience. It promises to be an intimate experience that clocks in at about five hours to complete. If you’re interested in getting this ball rolling, it’s already available now on Switch and Steam.
Prepare to Get GORSD
There’s a delicate balance between unsettling the player without being outright scary. GORSD treads the line here as a one-hit-kill shooter that stars humans encased in the skins of octopuses, dragons with human faces, and nightmarish environments. Something feels off about GORSD, but that’s exactly what makes it so interesting.
Brought to life with detailed pixel art, GORSD supports up to four players who can face off in chaotic matches in varied arenas. It also features a full-fledged single-player campaign with a vast overworld with dozens of unique stages. Its concept is inspired by its developers’ native Southeast Asian cultures, making for a unique gameplay and aesthetic experience. If you’re ready to dive in and see it for yourself, it’s available now on all consoles and PC via Steam.
Get Ready For a Foregone Conclusion
Saying Foregone is a 2D Dark Souls would be cliché, but accurate nonetheless. It’s a hardcore action game where you’ll fight against insurmountable odds to prevent monsters from overrunning the world. It has a brutally addictive gameplay loop—its difficulty may be excruciating, but because it offers a wide assortment of abilities to leverage, it’s immensely euphoric once you overcome the challenges before you.
This beautiful 3D/pixelated hybrid action game has been available on PC in early access since February, but at long last, it’s seeing its full console release in October. It’s been a promising title ever since its pre-release days, and now that it’s finally seeing its complete iteration, there’s never been a better time to dive in and give it a shot. It’s hitting all platforms on October 5, so there’s not long to wait!
Finding Good Company in a Lonesome Village
Mix Zelda with Animal Crossing and you might get something like Lonesome Village. This newly-revealed puzzle adventure game features Zelda-like adventure in a hand-drawn world populated by animal characters. Players control a wandering coyote who stumbles upon a strange village and decides to investigate its mysterious happenings by interacting with villagers, solving puzzles, and exploring its dungeons.
It’s more than a simple adventure game. In addition to puzzle-solving, you’ll interact with Lonesome Village’s eclectic cast of characters to forge relationships and unravel brooding mysteries. It’s showing plenty of potential with its cozy gameplay loop, and if you want to give it a shot, check out its official demo from its Kickstarter page! It’s already been fully funded in less than 24 hours, but if you want to help the developers out even further, consider contributing to their campaign.
PAX Online: ‘Inkulinati’ and ‘Pumpkin Jack’
The PAX Online celebrations continue with the strategy game, Inkulinati, and spooky Halloween themed Pumpkin Jack.
The PAX Online celebrations continue with a strategy game whose tales are writ in ink and a game sure to put you in an early Halloween mood.
Platforms: Switch and Steam
Competitive strategy games stress me out. Chess? Stresses me out. Checkers? Stresses me out. Star Craft? Stresses me out. Managing that stress as a form of stimulation is what makes the best strategy games shine, though, and Inkulinati is so far demonstrating all the facets of such a game.
The titular Inkulinati are masters of a craft that brings their inked creatures to life on parchment, including a caricature of themselves. The two Inkulinati do written battle with each other until only one is left standing. The battles are carried out in a charming medieval art style that looks like it was taken straight out of a manuscript you’d find carefully stored in a library. These aren’t the masterpieces of Da Vinci or Van Gogh, but the kinds of scribbles you’d find the layman making on the edges of pages either out of boredom or mischievousness. The playful art makes for a playful tone and jolly times.
The core thrust of the gameplay is that each Inkulinati utilizes ink points to conjure units, or “creatures”, onto the parchment in a turn-based manner and sends them into the fray. There were a fair amount of creatures available in the demo — ranging from a simple swordsdog with well-rounded stats to a donkey capable of stunning foes with its trusty butt trumpet. Many many more creature types are promised in the full game, but I found even with the limited selection of the demo the gameplay was still able to be showcased well.
Your primary Inkulinati also has some tricks up its depending on the type you’ve chosen to take into battle. Instant damage to or healing a unit were the two shown off in the demo, as well as being able to shove units. Shoving is particularly useful as you can push enemies into the hellfires that encroach the battlefield as the battle wages on, instantly defeating them.
Doing battle with an opponent it all well and good, but what’s the point if it’s not immortalized for generations to experience down the line? Inkulimati understands this need and will record every single action of the battlefield in written word. It’s infinitely charming, and the amount of variations in how to say what amounts to just “X unit attacked Y enemy” is astonishing. How can you not chuckle at, “Powerful Morpheus killed the enemy and may those who failed to witness this live in constant pain and regret”?
Platforms: PS4, Xbox One, Switch, and Steam
Release: Q4 2020
Halloween may be a little over a month away but that didn’t stop the 3D action platformer Pumpkin Jack getting me in the spookyween mood. The human realm is suffering from the Devil’s curse and have elected the aid of a wizarding champion to save them from it. Not to be outdone, the Devil also chooses his own champion to stop the wizard, choosing the despicable spirit Jack. With the tasty reward of being able to pass on from hell, Jack dons his pumpkin head and a wooden & straw body on his quest to keep the world ruined. The premise sounds slightly grim but make no mistake that this is a goofy game through and through, a fact only emphasized by a brilliant opening narration dripping with sarcasm and morbid glee.
The demo took us through Pumpkin Jack‘s first stage, a dilapidated farmland full of ambient lanterns abandoned storehouses. The visuals are compliments by a wonderfully corny soundtrack full of all the tubas, xylophones, and ghost whistles one would expect a title that is eternally in the Halloween mood.
We got the basics of traversal, like dodge rolling and double jumps, before coming upon a terrified murder of crows. Turns out their favorite field has been occupied by a dastardly living scarecrow and they want Jack to take care of it. One crow joins Jack on his quest, taking the form of a projectile attack that he can sic on enemies. Jack also obtains a shovel he can use to whack on the animated skeletons with a simple three-hit combo. There’s nothing particularly standout about the combat, but it doesn’t necessarily need to be this early on. More weapons such as a rifle and scythe are promised in the full game and should go a way towards developing the combat along with more enemy variety.
Collectible crow skulls also dot the map and seem to be cleverly hidden as even when I felt like I was carefully searching the whole stage I had only found 12 out of 20 by the end. Their purpose is unknown in the demo, so here’s hopping they amount to something making me want to find those last eight in the full version.
After accidentally lighting a barn ablaze and escaping in a dramatic sequence we came across the scarecrow in question. Defeating it was a rather simple affair that was just a matter of shooting it out of the air with the crow then wailing on it with Jack’s shovel. We were awarded a new glaive-type weapon as a reward but unable to give it a whirl in the demo, unfortunately. All-in-all, Pumpkin Jack shows promise as a follow-up to action 3D platformers of yore like Jak & Daxter, so here’s hoping to a solid haunting when it releases later this year.
‘Oracle of Seasons’: A Game Boy Color Classic
“It is an endless cycle of life… the changing seasons!”
The Legend of Zelda: Oracle of Ages & Oracle of Seasons are very much two halves of the same grand adventure, but they’re both worth examining on their own merits. Seasons in particular brings with it quite an interesting history. The game that would eventually become Oracle of Seasons began life as a remake of the original Legend of Zelda. This remake would be accompanied by five other games– a remake of Zelda II: The Adventure of Link and four original titles– all developed for the Game Boy Color. These games would not be developed by Nintendo themselves, but by Flagship– a subsidiary of Capcom that was also funded in part by Nintendo and Sega.
These six games would eventually be trimmed into a trilogy slated to release in the summer, autumn, & winter of 2000, before settling as a duology that would launch simultaneously in 2001. Where Oracle of Ages was the sole survivor of the four original games, Oracle of Seasons was a brand new game morphed out of the Zelda 1 remake. Considering director Hidemaro Fujibayashi’s own reflection on Flagship’s Zelda proposal, much of what would define Seasons was always present;
“The core of the game was pretty much decided. That is to say, the fact that it would be on the Game Boy Color, the use of the four seasons, and the decision to retain the feel of the 2D Zelda games. It was also decided that it would be a series.”
Not only was this remake never intended to be a standalone entry, it would kick start its own sub-series while featuring seasons at the forefront of the gameplay. Series creator Shigeru Miyamoto likewise asked Fujibayashi to pen a new story for the original Legend of Zelda, suggesting a fairly comprehensive remake as the end goal. With so many inherent changes, however, The Hyrule Fantasy ended up leaving the region altogether.
“I believe the Zelda series really only started to have scenarios after the hardware specifications improved. The original Zelda was a pure action-RPG and didn’t have much of a story to begin with. I wanted to combine both those aspects (action-RPG and an actual scenario) this time around. At first, we’d only planned on creating a game one-tenth the size of the final version. But it just kept growing as development progressed and gradually turned into an original game.”
– Hidemaro Fujibayashi, Director/Planner/Scenario Writer
Oracle of Seasons takes after Link’s Awakening and Majora’s Mask by setting itself away from Hyrule– the kingdom only ever shown during the opening cinematic. Holodrum has one of the densest worlds in a 2D Zelda game, if not the densest after A Link to the Past & A Link Between Worlds. A kingdom geographically similar to Hyrule as seen in the original Legend of Zelda, Holodrum has its own northern mountainside, a final dungeon in the northwest corner, and dozens of old men hidden amongst the land. This all makes sense since Seasons is rooted in a remake of the first game, but it isn’t as if Holodrum is without its novelties.
Holodrum is distinct from Hyrule where it counts. The kingdom itself is quite large, sprawling when compared directly to Koholint Island. Progression often feels like a puzzle, especially when working around roadblocks early on. Holodrum’s four seasons are out of order, with the weather changing on the fly between regions. Link has to work around snow banks, overgrown trees, flooded fields, and petrified flora to overcome Holodrum’s chaos. As easy as it is to get side tracked in the vast kingdom, it’s only because there always tends to be something around the corner. Getting lost isn’t a problem when the overworld is so secret heavy.
Old men are frequently found hiding under trees, actually giving players a reason to burn them on sight now, but new systems are in place to make exploration even more rewarding. Link will come across patches of soft soil throughout Holodrum where he can plant Gasha Seeds. Owing their name to gashapon– Japanese capsule toys not too dissimilar to blind bag toys– Gasha Seeds grow into Gasha Trees which bear Gasha Nuts after Link has defeated 40 enemies. Gasha Nut contents are randomized, but they incentivize players to return to previously explored areas.
Not everything a Gasha Nut drops is worth the effort of chopping down 40 enemies– the worst being five regular hearts and a sole fairy– but the best rewards make it all worthwhile. While the Heart Piece tied to the Nut is probably the best overall get, Gasha Seeds naturally feed into the Ring system. Rings add an inherent RPG layer to the Oracle duology’s gameplay, offering the earliest instance of genuine player customization in the Zelda franchise. Rings, like Gasha Nuts, are completely random. Link will find many in his travels, but he needs to appraise them at Vasu’s ring shop in Horon Village before they can be used. Except in a few rare instances, Vasu’s appraisals are randomized.
There are 64 rings altogether between Seasons and Ages, all with varying effects. Which rings Link obtains can influence how players go about their game. RNG also ensures that each new playthrough is unique from the last. While this poses an obvious frustration for any completionists, it’s a fantastic way of adding another layer of replay value to an already fairly replayable experience. The Expert’s Ring allows Link to punch enemies if he unequips his weapons, the Charge Ring speeds up the Spin Attack, and the Protection Ring makes it so Link always takes one Heart of damage when attacked.
With so many rings to choose from, the gameplay is kept in balance by Link’s Ring Box. Once appraised, Link can equip his rings into his box. While he can only equip one initially, players can find a Box upgrade on Goron Mountain. With RNG already influencing which rings Link has access to, it’s unlikely two players will have the exact same experience in Oracle of Seasons– rings offering more personalization than is still usual for Zelda. Besides Gasha Nuts, Rings can be found in the overworld and dropped by Maple, a young witch who makes further use of RNG.
Maple is Syrup’s apprentice, the recurring witch who runs the potion shop in A Link to the Past and Link’s Awakening. Riding in on her broomstick, Maple will appear after Link has killed 30 enemies. Should players bump into her, both Link & Maple will drop their treasures, prompting Maple to race the player for them. It’s almost always worthwhile to focus on what Maple’s dropped rather than what Link lost. Not only does Maple drop her own unique set of rings, she’s a convenient way of getting potions early on and will eventually drop a Heart Piece. Maple also gets progressively faster, upgrading her flying broomstick to a vacuum after enough altercations.
So much RNG can be off-putting, but Holodrum is such an extensive overworld that randomness isn’t much of an issue. Gasha Seeds drive exploration and Maple’s appearances reward it. These systems also encourage players to fight enemies head-on rather than avoid them when it’s convenient. If gameplay ever feels more involved in Oracle of Seasons than the average Zelda game, that’s because it is. This goes double when taking the very seasons into account.
The four seasons influence overworld progression significantly and most non-dungeon puzzles center on Link using the Rod of Seasons to restore seasonal order to whatever region he’s in. Most of these puzzles solve themselves since seasons can only be changed on stumps, but concessions need to be made when an overworld features four unique versions of every region. Incredible use of the Game Boy Color’s hardware helps in this regard as well. The handheld was designed with making in-game colors pop and Oracle of Seasons– as an extremely late-life GBC game– stands out as one of the most vibrant titles in the system’s library.
Each season has its own defining color palette– blue for winter, red for summer, green for spring, yellow for autumn– but there is always a wide range of colors on-screen. Winter matches its light blue with shades of white & gray; spring features an almost pastel color tone where gold & pink flowers bloom against soft shades of green; summer deepens most colors for a bolder effect; and autumn offsets its yellow with orange, red, and in some instances purple. Oracle of Seasons might very well have the best atmosphere on the Game Boy Color, each season stylized & recognizable with their own distinct tones. It’s a phenomenal presentation that outdoes OoS’ contemporaries. Seasons outright has better art direction than most early GBA games.
The fact Oracle of Seasons commits to its premise in such a large overworld as strictly as it does is praiseworthy, but it’s even more impressive that there’s another world lurking underneath Holodrum. Subrosia is a bizarre underworld, easily the most eclectic setting in the franchise other than Termina (and in many respects more so.) Subrosians are culturally impolite, bathe in lava, and deal in Ore instead of Rupees. The Subrosian Market undersells a Heart Piece, volcanic eruptions are a welcome norm, and Link will be moving between Holodrum & Subrosia multiple times over the course of his journey. Players can even go on a date with a Subrosian girl, Rosa, that’s a clear play on his date with Marin from Link’s Awakening. Subrosia is so alien that it’s hard not to love every moment beneath Holodrum.
Beyond the four seasons and the dichotomy between Holodrum & Subrosia, what differentiates Oracle of Seasons most from Oracle of Ages is its focus on action. Seasons is a puzzle heavy game, but it lets combat drive the gameplay more often than not with a very action-centric tool kit. The Slingshot makes its 2D debut, replacing the Bow in the process, but its 250 seed capacity outdoes any of Link’s quivers. Its upgraded version, the Hyper Slingshot, even fires in three directions at once. The Roc’s Feather returns from Link’s Awakening to once again make jumping an important part of Link’s mobility. Not only is platforming far more frequent this time around– with the Ancient Ruins featuring quite a bit of jumping for a 2D dungeon– it upgrades into the Roc’s Cape which allows Link to glide.
The Boomerang now upgrades into a guided Magical Boomerang which players can control themselves; the Magnetic Gloves are ostensibly a better version of the Hookshot which can pull Link to & from magnetic sources, along with magnetizing certain baddies; and most enemies are designed with a combination of the sword & shield in mind. Oracle of Ages has its fair share of action as well, but not with quite the same focus as Oracle of Seasons.
In general, Seasons is a focused video game in the best ways possible. OoS always gives players a general direction to go in, but otherwise leaves Link to his own devices. There are little to no interruptions, and the gameplay loop emphasizes freedom in spite of the game’s linearity. There’s always something to do and you’re always making progress, whether that be narratively or checking in on some Gasha Nuts. The pace is perfectly suited for handheld gaming and quick burst play sessions. Only have a few minutes to play? Kill some enemies to trigger Maple. Got some time? Scope out the next dungeon and work towards saving Holodrum.
There are also a number of side quests to round off gameplay. The main trading sequence ends with Link finding the Noble Sword in Holodrum’s Lost Woods; players can forge an Iron Shield in Subrosia by smelting red and blue ore together & bringing the refined ore to the Subrosian smithy; and Golden Beasts roam Holodrum, each appearing during a different season & in a set region. Once all four are defeated, Link can find an old man north of Horon Village who will give him the Red Ring– a ring which doubles the Sword’s attack at no expense to the player.
All these side quests are worthwhile, especially since Oracle of Seasons is a bit on the tougher side when it comes to difficulty. Dungeons are very fast-paced, full of puzzles that are often deceptively simple. Dungeon items are used in increasingly clever ways, from traversing over bottomless pits with strategic use of the Magnetic Gloves to using the Hyper Slingshot to activate three statues at once. Notably, most bosses in Seasons are actually remixes of boss fights from the first Legend of Zelda.
Aquamentus, Dodongo, Gohma, Digdogger, Manhandla, and Gleeok all return with a vengeance. Gleeok in particular puts up a serious fight, forcing Link on the offensive. Not only do players need to be quick enough to slice off Gleeok’s two heads before they can attack themselves back on, the dragon will persist as a skeleton for round 2. Explorer’s Crypt is a difficult enough dungeon where getting to the boss room with full health isn’t a guarantee, so Gleeok offers a surprising but welcome challenge as a result.
Oracle of Seasons deserves a bit of credit for having one of the harder final bosses in the series, as well. Onox doesn’t have much in the way of personality, but he’s a tough boss to put down. His second form requires Link to use the Spin Attack to deal damage while making sure he doesn’t hit Din in the process, and Onox’s dragon form is a gauntlet of dodging, jumping, & surviving long enough to finally kill the General of Darkness. Players are bound to die once or twice, but the final dungeon is short enough where getting back to Onox takes no time at all.
If Oracle of Seasons has one glaring flaw, however, it’s the story. The script reads like a massive step back coming off the heels of Link’s Awakening, Ocarina of Time, and especially Majora’s Mask. Link is summoned to aid the Oracle Din, already a seasoned hero and implied to be the same Link from A Link to the Past, but very little time is spent fleshing out Din as a character & giving players a reason to care about her. Her role is more akin to Zelda in A Link to the Past than Marin in Link’s Awakening. Similarly, Onox is an undercooked villain who shows up to kidnap Din and does nothing for the rest of the story. Of course, this light story stems from Seasons’ origin as a remake of The Legend of Zelda.
Early press of the game– when it was still going by the name Acorn of the Tree of Mystery– indicates that the story was originally set in Hyrule and the seasons went out of order when Ganon kidnapped Princess Zelda, the guardian of both the Triforce of Power & the four seasons. Hyrule was changed to Holodrum, Ganon became Onox, Zelda turned to Din, and the eight fragments of the Triforce presumably became the eight Essences of Nature. While underwhelming, the plot’s structure if nothing else makes sense.
It’s worth pointing out that Oracle of Seasons seems to recognize that story is its weakness and lets the gameplay drive the experience. Unlike Oracle of Ages which takes its plot seriously and has a clear thematic arc, Seasons really is just a remix of Zelda 1’s plot. Which is perfect for the kind of game OoS ultimately is: a fast-paced, action-packed adventure through an ever-changing world. When played as a precursor to Ages instead of its ending, Seasons’ story comes off comparatively better. The stakes aren’t that high or defined, but that’s more than okay for the first half of an adventure that spans two full-length games.
In a departure for the franchise, Oracle of Seasons actually features a proper post-game, marking the first time any Zelda acknowledges that the main threat is over. NPCs will comment on how they haven’t seen Link in a while, the weather has stabilized as spring has set in Holodrum, and you’re free to wrap up any side quests left unfinished. This is especially noteworthy because players can link their progress from Seasons over into Ages and transfer any rings they have on hand.
An epilogue makes for a charming send-off to one of the most charming games on the Game Boy Color. Oracle of Seasons underwent a strange development, intended to be little more than a suped-up remake of the original Legend of Zelda. Instead, Flagship ended up developing one of the finest games on the GBC– a vibrant adventure filled with personality and some of the best action on the handheld. Oracle of Seasons isn’t just one half of a greater game; it’s a classic Zelda in its own right.
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