Now that 2018 is behind us, we can start focusing on the new year. Thankfully, 2019 is shaping up to be another good year for video games, and while we don’t expect this year to be as good as 2018 or 2017, both of which gave us some of the most critically acclaimed games of all time (God of War, Breath of the Wild, Horizon Zero Dawn, Persona 5, Spider-Man and Super Smash Bros. Ultimate, to name a few), we expect there to be enough great games to keep us more than busy over the next twelve months.
It should be noted that while we’re super excited about games like The Last of Us 2, Ghost of Tsushima, Cyberpunk 2077, Halo Infinite, and the Final Fantasy VII remake, only games (with the exception of one) that have been confirmed for a 2019 release are eligible to make the cut. In case you are wondering, we included one special mention because many of us here at Goomba Stomp are certain it will get a release in 2019, despite Nintendo not yet giving us any indication to believe so (can you guess which game?).
In any case, the results are a mix of triple-A blockbusters, unique indies, sequels, remakes, remasters, and new IPs that have piqued our curiosity. In other words, there’s something on this list for every type of gamer.
Here is our list of the most anticipated games of 2019 as decided by the GS crew, in alphabetical order.
It’s been six years since we’ve seen a proper release of Animal Crossing, and the world is ready to once again owe a raccoon a pile of bells.
Traditionally, the games see you as a cute villager who lives among cute animals and does cute things. These cute things include (but are not limited to): running about, fishing, shaking trees, fishing, catching bugs, fishing, talking to other animals, designing clothes, and celebrating a variety of adorable holidays. And fishing. A real-time clock clicks through the easy-going days and seasons, and for the right audience (this writer included), the laid-back sim is pure magic.
With each iteration of Animal Crossing, small improvements have been made. The latest will be the fifth in the main series, and thus far Nintendo has done little but reveal the fact that it is coming to us in 2019. But the hope of the legions of shovel-wielding devotees is that this iteration of their legendary IP might undergo a more dramatic evolution than we’ve seen in the past.
Regardless of whether or not we see a full overhaul of the undisputed cutest life sim, or just another slate of small changes, millions will no doubt be ready and waiting to pay their debts to Tom Nook again. (Marty Allen)
Microsoft debuted the first gameplay footage of Anthem at E3 2017, showing off BioWare’s brand new title from Drew Karpyshyn, a BioWare veteran who has worked as a designer and writer on multiple projects, including Mass Effect and Mass Effect 2. The game looks set to be a large-scale shooter in the vein of Destiny (albeit from a third-person perspective), and takes place in a futuristic, hostile alien world where humanity resides in a city guarded by a giant wall to help protect themselves from outside threats. Players take the role of a Freelancer, a heroic group that acts as humanity’s guardians and scouts beyond the wall. These warriors don suits of armour, known as Javelins. In other words, it seems like a cross between Attack on Titan, Destiny and Star Wars rolled into one.
A non-RPG is certainly a departure from BioWare’s usual development territory, but given Karpyshyn’s track record, I’m assuming the game will still have a decent narrative. It’ll be interesting to see what the developer can bring to this genre given their background in storytelling, but one thing is for sure: Anthem is an important game both for EA and BioWare, and an opportunity to restore their faltering reputation after a disappointing couple of years. (Ricky D)
There isn’t a whole lot of information about Babylon’s Fall, the latest collaborative project from PlatinumGames — the studio responsible for stylish, hair-trigger action games such as Bayonetta and Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance — and Square Enix. The trailer, which debuted during Square Enix’s E3 Showcase in 2018, depicts dark fantasy world featuring a war with ancient gods, technological advancements reliant on a mysterious energy source known as the Oversoul, and prophetic visions of mankind’s doom at the hands of all-encompassing darkness.
The latter half of the trailer depicts a Nomad — an elite warrior and likely the game’s protagonist — using an energy whip to grab a towering, armored enemy’s sword to slice them in half, all without moving a muscle.
I must admit that the trailer, which is mostly just concept art followed by a short animation, left me rather cold on first viewing until the reveal of developer PlatinumGames at the last second. Almost everything Platinum touches turns to gold, and the last collaboration with Square Enix, Nier: Automata, might be their best game yet. Here’s hoping that Platinum have made yet another action masterpiece. Babylon’s Fall could also be a foray into a different style of game, as studio head Atsushi Inaba has described it as “a new challenge for PlatinumGames.” Here’s hoping it’ll blow our socks off. (George Cheese)
In 1991, Rare developers Tim and Chris Stamper created Battletoads, a game that became infamous for its difficulty while being praised for its gameplay, personality, and sense of humour. It was a landmark beat-em-up, and one of the most graphically advanced video games ever released for the NES. The premise featured two space mutant anthropomorphic toads (known as Rash and Zitz) who embark on a mission to defeat the evil Dark Queen in hopes of rescuing their kidnapped friends, Pimple and Princess Angelica. The game won six awards from the 1991 Nintendo Power Awards, and led to Rare developing various sequels — although none as unforgiving as the original.
After years of waiting, last year Microsoft announced a new entry in the series, and while we haven’t seen much (if anything) of the upcoming reboot of Battletoads, there is plenty of reason to be excited for the release. We do know the game will include three-player couch co-op, 4K hand-drawn 2.5D graphics, and more importantly, it is developed by Rare, who created the original Battletoads in 1991. For fans like myself who grew up playing the NES original, the new Battletoads is high on my list of most anticipated games of 2019. (Ricky D)
Everyone’s favorite Umbra Witch is once again returning to a Nintendo platform! After the spectacular Bayonetta 2 didn’t sell as well as expected, fans were wondering whether or not there would ever be another game. Luckily, a teaser for the Switch exclusive Bayonetta 3 was shown at the 2017 Game Awards, along with ports of the first two games. That being said, we don’t actually know anything about the game itself.
The first two titles run incredibly on the Switch, so it’s safe to assume that not much will be changing with the third. The level of over-the-top insanity was seemingly doubled between the first and second titles, and I’m not sure if our visual and auditory sensors are prepared for what PlatinumGames is cooking up for the third iteration. I’m not sure they’ll be able to top the intro of Bayonetta 2, as that is easily one of the most insane startup sequences of all time, but there’s a lot more speculation to be had as well, especially in regards to some of the game’s other modes. It’s possible that they could expand upon the online modes found in Bayonetta 2, as those were a fun diversion from the main campaign.
The real question on everyone’s mind has nothing to do with the story or gameplay, however. Fans really only need to know one thing: what will Bayonetta’s hairstyle be like in the third game? Long? Short? Ponytails? Bald? Who the hell knows, but it has to be different, right? (Zack Rezac)
Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night
The ups and downs during the nearly four years since its Kickstarter campaign began may have been enough to dampen some players’ enthusiasm for finally getting their hands on Koji Igarashi’s spiritual successor to the many Castlevania games he helped produce, but lovers of that series and the genre, in general, should still be plenty excited when the game finally releases this year. Sure, the 2017 E3 demo was a long time ago, but even back then it looked great, sounded great, and — most importantly — played great. Hopefully, things have only gotten better.
Sporting a plot with eerie overtones of the body curse found in Simon’s Quest, the story sees a woman named Miriam who ventures to a creepy castle in order to track down the person that can save her life. What she finds are skeleton monsters, disembodied heads, and a vengeful witch that rains blood from the sky. These grisly freaks can be slain via the variety of weapons and magical abilities picked up along the way, all of which have strengths and weaknesses that encourage strategy and experimentation. A leveling system makes for continued progression, and the labyrinthine corridors of the crumbling castle are sure to hide many dark secrets. None of this is wholly original, but when executed well in concert, these elements can be supremely satisfying.
The Metroidvania genre is one of my favorites, and based upon his past successes — from Symphony of the Night through the excellent DS games — I can’t help but believe that Igarashi will pull this one out. The promised spin-off ended up well, and hopefully, the same attention and care will translate to the larger experience. I know I can’t wait to find out. Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night has certainly had its share of development issues, but that gorgeously gothic setting is begging to be explored, and the responsive controls suggest we’ll have a blast doing it. (Patrick Murphy)
Originally expected to drop last September, Code Vein is an anime-style action roleplaying game from Hiroshi Yoshimura — the director of many of the God Eater games — that is often described as an anime version of Dark Souls. The emphasis on parries and dodges, not to mention the juggernaut bosses, means that the comparisons to Dark Souls are inevitable, but Code Vein does distinguish itself with its premise, which underpins a dark story of vampiric entities collectively referred to as The Revenant, who have formed an underground post-apocalyptic society. Code Vein will also emphasize a “Buddy” system that allows you to take a companion into new areas and develop them alongside your main hero.
There’s still much we don’t know about Code Vein, but so far everything we’ve seen suggests it could Bandai Namco’s next great hardcore RPG. If the game does interest you, I highly recommend reading our hands-on preview from MCM London Comic Con. (Ricky D)
One of the more pleasant surprises of 2017 at Paris Games Week was the reveal of Concrete Genie, a puzzler/action-platformer that gently explores themes of bullying and childhood through gorgeous, hand-drawn art that stands out in contrast to its depressing urban environment. According to PixelOpus (a Sony-owned studio that works out of San Mateo, California), Concrete Genie follows a bullied teenager named Ash, who escapes his troubles by painting spectacular living landscapes and mischievous creatures throughout his abandoned hometown of Denska. As he masters this magical paint, he discovers it can purify Denska’s polluted walls.
Using the DualShock 4’s motion sensor, players can create stunning landscapes and strange creatures on the walls of the city, which then turn into living artwork that helps Ash overcome the heartaches of adolescence as he paints his hometown back to life. (Ricky D)
Remedy Entertainment, best known for Alan Wake and Quantum Break, remains one of the most exciting developers in gaming, if only for how they’ve spent the past few years experimenting with different ways to tell stories in video games. Now, they are back with another high-tech, supernatural, third-person action adventure set in a reality-bending version of New York. A woman named Jesse Faden (Courtney Hope), who is blessed with supernatural powers, becomes entangled in a struggle between mysterious invaders (known as the Hiss) and a secret government agency called the Federal Bureau of Control. After the Bureau’s headquarters (called the Oldest House) is invaded, Jesse is thrust into the role of Director of the FBC via a strange, ritualistic process, and must find her way through the ever-shifting halls of the Oldest House in order to defeat the enemy and uncover the answers she seeks.
It’s a complicated premise no doubt, but from what we’ve seen of Control, we expect it will be full of Remedy’s trademark personality. The developer has talked about having another game in development for years, but details have been scant. Apart from the synopsis revealed alongside the trailer, all we really know is that this time around, the game is focused on environmental storytelling, and the missions that players embark on will be more than just linear fetch quests. (Ricky D)
Even since Dave Jones presented game footage of Crackdown 3 during Microsoft’s 2015 Gamescom media briefing, Crackdown 3 has appeared on our list of most anticipated games. And now, after multiple delays and development hiccups, Crackdown 3 will launch early in 2019 for Xbox One and PC.
The open-world crime-fighting game retains the core gameplay of Crackdown and Crackdown 2, featuring a number of different organizations controlling the city of New Providence that players will need to take down by killing their bosses and Kingpins, destroying their facilities, and destabilizing their infrastructures. Right from the start, players are free to explore the entire city and go wherever they want, whenever they want, including in terms of how you choose to proceed through the game’s story mode.
Alongside the new date announcement, Microsoft also revealed a new five-on-five multiplayer deathmatch mode in a dedicated arena which should further help make Crackdown 3 one of the best multiplayer games of 2019. But while the game’s multiplayer definitely sounds ambitious, the tentpole feature of Crackdown 3 is its destruction, and from what we’ve seen and read, Crackdown 3 promises a scale and detail to its demolition like nothing we’ve seen a game before. (Ricky D)
Crash Team Racing Nitro-Fueled
First came Crash Bandicoot N. Sane Trilogy, and now we have another retro-inspired remake on our hands that stars the original mascot for Playstation. Dubbed Crash Team Racing Nitro-Fueled, this is essentially a remake of the original Crash Team Racing, only completely rebuilt from the ground up to take full advantage of modern hardware.
It’s been nearly twenty years since Crash Team Racing first released for the original PlayStation in 1999, but Crash Team Racing Nitro-Fueled looks to give the Mario Kart series a run for its money. According to the press release, fans will be getting access to all the re-imagined assets from the beloved original game, including every original racer, kart, track, and arena, as well as options like Time Trial, Arcade, Versus, Battle Mode, and the much-adored Adventure mode — with some minor adjustments, one being the inclusion of online multiplayer. Expect more characters, more levels, and more chaos. (Ricky D)
Cuphead: The Delicious Last Course
Technically, we are breaking the rule by including The Delicious Last Course, since it isn’t a new game but rather DLC, but that’s ok — the Delicious Last Course may just be the very last we’ll see of Cuphead and his friends for a very long time. At the centerpiece of this new adventure is the premiere of a new isle, new boss enemies, new weapons, and Ms. Chalice — a new playable character with a brand new twist on the classic Cuphead move set.
To say that we’re thrilled to see Studio MDHR release more Cuphead content is a bit of an understatement. Not only is the original Cuphead an artistic feat, but it’s also one of the best (if not the best) exclusives available for the Xbox One, and one of our favorite games of 2017. (Ricky D)
Days Gone is another post-apocalyptic game coming out this year which looks like it could have a lot of potential. An action adventure game developed by SIE Bend Studio, it focuses on a horror element that has dominated video games over the years: zombies.
Set in Oregon, the player takes on the role of Deacon St. John, a biker trying to survive after the apocalypse. The game will have to be impressive to stand out from the crowd, but I’ve felt cautiously optimistic from what has been shown. The zombies here are called Freakers, and one of the noteworthy elements about them is the sheer amount that can be on screen as they chase the player. In the released gameplay videos, it would seem that hundreds of Freakers can follow you at the same time. They can also run, so death is likely if a large group spots you, which could make for a more frightening experience as you play. The shrieking and screaming that the Freakers emit as they chase you is also pretty good nightmare fuel.
Gameplay seems to be your usual survival game fare. Deacon will need to scrounge resources in order to craft weapons, upgrades, and other useful items. He’ll also have to set up encampments throughout the large open world, as well as maintain his home base, which he will be able to communicate with during his travels. One of the key features will be maintaining Deacon’s motorcycle, which will be his only mode of transportation. Players will need to ensure that Deacon has enough fuel, and that his bike is well kept, or they may find themselves in the midst of a Freaker attack with no means of escape. Although a lot of this is stuff we have seen before, if utilized properly, it could be a fun experience.
Whilst not entirely original in its ideas, Days Gone has an interesting premise and shows promise. (Toni Haynes)
Devil May Cry 5
It’s such a shame that Capcom has already set out their cynical stall to try and add microtransactions to Devil May Cry V, because having played it at Gamescom last year, I can say without reservation that no fan of the series will be disappointed with how the game plays. It’s fast, it’s fluid, and Dante’s hair is the right colour — it’s all there.
After the angsty, emo DmC, Capcom has taken the reigns back from Ninja Theory, and camped the whole thing right up again, doing its best to be as ludicrous as possible to pull the fans back in. A transformable robotic arm for Nero, devil arms for Dante that are also a motorbike, and ESRB ratings that advise of people being impaled by demon tentacles and partially nude women whose “breasts and buttocks [are] minimally covered by blood, light, or clothing” — yeah, Devil May Cry is back, folks.
There are three playable characters to enjoy this time around, with the introduction of the mysterious V. Wielding a cane and a book — and apparently playing very differently to Nero and Dante — he should offer a significantly fresh element to the gameplay, which is otherwise the tried-and-true hack ‘n’ slash ‘n’ shoot ‘n’ juggle fare, albeit with a more photo-realistic graphical style, as well as some lovely 60fps to make it look all slick and sexy.
Capcom had a pretty strong 2018 with Monster Hunter World and Mega Man 11 revitalizing their respective series,’ and 2019 seems primed to do the same for Resident Evil and DMC. We don’t even have to wait that long for either title, and by the time spring hits, Capcom could well have two Game of the Year contenders on their hands. (Alex Aldridge)
Doom 2016 has unquestionably one of the best FPS campaigns of the last decade. Hell, I’d argue that it has one of the best campaigns in any shooter ever made. A brutal ballet of blood-soaked badassery, the game was so exhilarating that I genuinely needed a rest after every level completion. What was most pleasing about the reboot was that it expertly exemplified just how much the current team at id Software just get Doom.
Based on everything we’ve seen of the game so far — most notably the gameplay trailer revealed at Quake Con — these dudes seem to know exactly what to put in a sequel. The Doomslayer is taking his bad attitude back to Earth, and he’s bringing an overhauled arsenal with a healthy dose of athleticism along for the ride.
Sporting a Predator-like shoulder cannon and a serrated bayonet on his arm, you can be sure that the explosions and glory kills will be even more explodey and glorious in Doom Eternal. Not only that, but every weapon has been improved to boast an even cooler secondary function than in the original. The Super Shotgun, as the best example, comes replete with a meat hook that can be used to rappel straight into an enemy’s mush for extra shotgun justice, like some kind of reverse Scorpion. Don’t get over here; I’ll come over there.
The vastly enhanced mobility of the Doomslayer — who can dash, swing, and climb around the arenas with breath-taking style — will punctuate the long-awaited return of the smoothest, most brutal 60fps in gaming. As if slaying demons doesn’t look fun enough, players can now invade another person’s game as Hellspawn, and can even bring a mate along if they want to be a couple of ganky gits. Unfortunately, Eternal doesn’t have a release date yet, but will it be worth the wait? Hell yeah. (Alex Aldridge)
The long-awaited next game from Media Molecule, titled Dreams, allows players to customize and control characters that are used to solve puzzles by manipulating items and objects across the game’s segmented levels. It’s somewhat hard to explain, but for the unfamiliar, Media Molecule is best known for LittleBigPlanet, and Dreams is likewise a game about creating. It’s a wildly ambitious project full of imagination, featuring a narrator in a coffin and a bear armed with a hammer. What else could you want? (Ricky D)
The past few years have given a rise to the popularity of dungeon-crawling Roguelikes and Soulslikes, all attempting to capture a sort of atmosphere of death, despair and insurmountable odds, set to tough-as-nails gameplay. Eneme Entertainment’s Eitr is one such game (with a seemingly long-ish development history, now confirmed to be set for a 2018 release by Devolver Digital), yet Eitr set itself apart with its focus on nuanced (yet streamlined) combat, and a Norse-inspired fantasy setting that invoke the best of both of its major inspiration: the infernal hellscape of Diablo and the diseased dark medieval fantasy of Demon’s Souls/Dark Souls.
Visually, what is striking about Eitr is the satisfyingly evil-looking crypts full of both RPG and tabletop gaming tropes and plagues, and the Nordic, cold eeriness to it all is not something we have seen properly explored in this genre — or in gaming in general.
The genre Eitr will find itself in upon release is full of comparisons and not-so-subtle attempts at re-creating elements of existing games. Here’s hoping that Eitr can elevate itself beyond just that. (Maxwell N)
Far Cry New Dawn
Spoiler Warning for Far Cry 5
The ending of Far Cry 5 polarized a fair portion of gamers for its depressing and bleak tone, but I loved it. The game ends with the main antagonist’s premonition of the apocalypse becoming a reality, as a nuclear war breaks out and engulfs Hope County in flames. It was a shock the first time I played it; the bad guy was right and I was left intrigued, so I was pleasantly surprised by the announcement of Far Cry New Dawn.
A direct sequel, Far Cry New Dawn takes place seventeen years after Far Cry 5. It is set in Hope County still, though it’s looking slightly more post-apocalyptic than it did in the last game. Gameplay videos and trailers show what we have come to expect from the Far Cry series: guns, cars, animal companions, and just a generally fun time. They also show that the world has become more vibrant and colourful despite its seeming end. Games with a post-apocalyptic setting tend to have bland and dull colour schemes to emphasize the dreary nature, so it is a nice change to see blooming flowers and overflowing greenery.
Far Cry New Dawn is interesting in its concept as a post-apocalyptic game. The market is full of these sorts of games, but Far Cry usually airs on the side of fun. The ridiculous, makeshift weapons, over-the-top gameplay, and copious amounts of pink that we have seen so far suggest that this will be the case here as well. It is also worth noting that while New Dawn uses the same map, it is a smaller game, so it will also likely be slightly cheaper than the previous installment. (Toni Haynes)
Fire Emblem: Three Houses
Fire Emblem: Three Houses has a lot to live up to. Though the series maintained a small, dedicated following for decades, it was the incredible success of Fire Emblem Awakening that ultimately saved the franchise and thrust it into the AAA spotlight. Nintendo has treated it like a part of their core lineup ever since, and I couldn’t be more excited.
The brief glimpse of gameplay we saw of the game at E3 signaled several things. For one, the added horsepower of the Switch is finally allowing Fire Emblem to visually represent how many fighters comprise a unit on the battlefield (in previous games, it always felt like the characters being directly controlled were the only ones fighting). This extra power to play with is also translating to some truly gorgeous, almost Disgaea 5-caliber HD character portraits. While the backgrounds didn’t look quite as spectacular from what we saw at E3, the character designs were all fairly interesting. 2017’s Fire Emblem Echoes excelled with its presentation, so hopefully Three Houses gets the same treatment — including full voice acting — by launch.
The main questions still surrounding Three Houses largely come down to the story and gameplay innovations. While Awakening and Fates didn’t have the most memorable narratives, their casts of characters and the way they interacted on and off the battlefield was a huge focus. Will Three Houses follow a similar formula, or might it be more story-heavy this time around? Will the partner battle system, marriage, and children return from previous entries? And in a series recently infamous for having tons of paid DLC, will the game launch with a season pass like Breath of the Wild, Xenoblade Chronicles 2, and Super Smash Bros. Ultimate? I can’t wait to find out (except for that last one — that’s definitely happening). (Brent Middleton)
Obviously, the big selling point of Jump Force is the huge character roster featuring icons from Dragon Ball Z, Yu-Gi-Oh!, Bleach, One Piece, My Hero Academia, Fist of the North Star, City Hunter, and so much more. But Bandai Namco’s 3-on-3 tag team fighting game also has many other features that other fighting games don’t generally have that are worth pointing out. For starters, Jump Force features fighters battling in 3D stages based on real-world locations, such as Himeji Castle, Hong Kong, San Francisco, and New York, as well as series-specific settings. It also allows players to create custom characters with just about every look, style, moveset, and detail familiar to the genre.
Unlike most games that have players pick a team of three characters, Jump Force has your entire team sharing the same health meter and special meter. Last but not least, Jump Force also comes with a story mode that attempts to draw together all of the characters from the many disparate series, while also introducing some new ones. All in all, that is a lot of content being offered in a fighting game, and while the jury is still out on whether or not the gameplay mechanics work well, it does look promising. (Ricky D)
‘Kingdom Hearts III: Re:Mind’: An Utterly Shameless Cash Grab
Coming in at a $40 price point (!!!) Kingdom Hearts III: Re:Mind offers an 80% recycled campaign, a boss rush mode, and some other trash.
In the 15 year long history of DLC, we have seen some really shameless displays. The notorious horse armor incident of 2006 and a notable day one DLC for the ending game of a trilogy notwithstanding, few companies have had the utter audacity to offer so little content for such a high price point. Enter Kingdom Hearts III: Re:Mind.
Coming in at a $40 price point (!!!) Kingdom Hearts III: Re:Mind offers an 80% recycled campaign, a boss rush mode, and some social media nonsense for people who really hate themselves. That’s really it, that’s what you get. Honestly, Square-Enix should be utterly embarrassed by this DLC.
It’s been one year: 365 days, 8760 hours, 525600 minutes, or 31556952 seconds, since the release of Kingdom Hearts III. Let that sink in as you begin the meat of Kingdom Hearts III: Re:Mind. Think of it as the extended version of a movie you really like… you know, the kind where they add 4 minutes to the 120 minute runtime.
Yes, Kingdom Hearts III: Re:Mind, really is that cynical. I’m not kidding when I tell you that the game literally starts with an exact cut scene from the base game, and a cut scene that happens to be available from the theater mode of the main game that you’ve already bought if you’re playing this DLC. Yes, the introduction to this new content is… content you’ve already seen.
In fact, that’s kind of the sticking point here: most of what you get for your hard-earned cash is footage you’ve already seen, and battles you’ve already fought, and story you’ve already experienced, just with slight alterations for context. Remember back in the 2000s, when we were super obsessed with prequels? This is like that, except even more egregious.
Generally I’m not so unforgiving as to call a company out for a forthright cash grab, but that’s absolutely what Kingdom Hearts III: Re:Mind is. There’s just no other way to put it. You might find someone in the marketing department for Square-Enix who would disagree, but being a company that has faced just these sort of allegations for their last two major releases, Square-Enix either doesn’t read the news, or doesn’t care what people think of their products.
Square-Enix was roundly accused of shipping unfinished products in the case of both Final Fantasy XV and Kingdom Hearts III — their two most high profile releases of the last decade. I personally gave mostly positive reviews of both games for this very website but if you want ammo to suggest that this company is deliberately trading on the nostalgia and passion of its fan base in order to make financial headway, there are few examples you could draw from that are as obvious as this DLC.
Look, maybe you’re a really big Kingdom Hearts fan. Maybe you just really wanted to know what the context was for that cliffhanger ending in Kingdom Hearts III. Maybe you just don’t do much research before you buy something. Or maybe… you just really trust this company for some reason.
Hey, I’m not judging… hell, I bought this DLC for $40 same as anyone else. I oughta be honest that I’m not reviewing Kingdom Hearts III: Re:Mind as some holier than thou critic, talking down to you from my position of privilege. No, I’m an angry consumer in this particular case. I’m a person who spent enough to replace a flat tire on my car, or buy my family dinner, on a game that is clearly playing off of my love for a franchise, and using it to bilk me out of money in a method that is so clear, and so concise, that those involved in the entire endeavor should be totally embarrassed for their part in the creation, marketing, pricing, and distribution of this expansion.
Yes, fans had their complaints about Kingdom Hearts III. “Where are the hardcore boss battles? Where are the Final Fantasy characters? Where are the secret areas? Where are the hidden plot developments?” Still, to address these particular complaints by hammering a few minutes or seconds here and there into already existing content is truly like spitting in the faces of the people who have built the house you’re living in.
I haven’t sat in the board rooms at Square-Enix and I haven’t been in email chains about the planning of projects at their company but what I can say is that there is something rotten in Denmark if this is what passes for a satisfying piece of content for the wildly devoted fans of a hugely popular franchise in 2020. Kingdom Hearts III: Re:Mind is literally, truthfully, and succinctly, the worst piece of DLC I’ve ever purchased.
10 Years Later: ‘Mass Effect 2’ is An All-Time Sci-fi Classic
Mass Effect 2 didn’t just nail the formula for a successful sequel, it tied together one of the greatest science fiction tales ever.
Mass Effect launched in 2007 as the boldest science fiction project ever conceived for consoles. The complex mythology, history and the many alien races, each with their own political/religious beliefs offered a depth rarely seen in the medium. Only a game as ambitious as Mass Effect 2 could not only match the pedigree of such a massive project but surpass it in every single way imaginable.
Released 3 years after the original, a full decade ago, Mass Effect 2 set the benchmark for not just sequels but for science fiction gaming as well. Few sequels are able to overcome the weaknesses of their predecessors with such perfect accuracy while also doubling down on what made them good in the first place.
The first task that fell to Bioware was to refine the combat. The original game had more of a strategic angle to it but that strategy meant the game was constantly stopping and starting, stuttering the action and ruining the flow of the game. By streamlining the combat into more of an action RPG experience (emphasis on action), Mass Effect 2 created a much better sense of tension in battle sequences. Aiming, using techniques and issuing orders also flowed more smoothly with these changes.
Another major change was the removal of the Mako, an exploratory rover the player drove around alien planets with. While a novel idea, the Mako often lead to aimless wandering as the player sought out resources on the many planets of Mass Effect. Instead of driving to their destination, players were now warped directly to the area they would be exploring. Resource collection was overhauled as a result.
While few players will talk about the thrill of spinning a globe around and aiming a reticle in order to collect resources in Mass Effect 2, the simple speed by which this process was streamlined offered a hefty margin of improvement over the original game. Resources that might have taken a half-hour to collect in the first game could now be found in 1/10 of that time. Resource collection, while a vital part of the game, was never meant to be the time sink it was in the original Mass Effect, and by speeding up this process, Mass Effect 2 allowed players to get back to the meat of the game: doing missions and exploring the galaxy.
Of course, these aren’t necessarily the most significant changes that players will recall from their time with Mass Effect 2. The story and character roster were also expanded considerably from the first game, and these are without a doubt the biggest improvements that this sequel is able to mount.
While Mass Effect had seven playable characters, Mass Effect 2 expanded that to twelve. Not only was the amount of characters an improvement, though, the quality of the characters on offer was also much stronger this time around. A full nine new characters were introduced for players to utilize in combat, strategize with and get to know throughout the game. Among them were badass assassin Thane Krios, dangerous convict Jack, morally dubious Miranda Lawson, and hivemind robot Legion.
In fact, the cast of Mass Effect 2 is so good that it has rightfully become a benchmark for the creation of a compelling cast of characters in RPGs, and video games, in general. The sheer diversity on display in the looks, personalities and movesets allowed for the cast is awe-inspiring, and this is without even considering the trump card that Mass Effect 2 flashed throughout the experience of playing the game.
The monumental suicide mission to raid the Collectors’ base and save humanity is the impetus for the entire plot of Mass Effect 2, and the reason for which the player is recruiting the baddest mother fuckers from all over the galaxy in hopes of success. It isn’t just a suicide mission in name either, many, or even all, of the cast can die during the completion of this mission, adding a layer of suspense and finality to the final stage of Mass Effect 2 that few other games can match.
To this end, players were encouraged to get to know their crew through loyalty missions specific to each cast member. By undertaking these optional missions and completing them in a way that would impress or endear themselves to the character in question, players were able to ascertain the unquestioned respect and loyalty of that character, ensuring they wouldn’t go rogue during the final mission.
Still, even passing these prerequisites with flying colors wasn’t a guarantee for success. Players also had to pay attention to the strengths and weaknesses of the characters when assigning tasks and making split-second decisions. Who you would leave to recon an area, repair a piece of equipment, or lock down a path, could make the difference as to who was going to survive the mission. Further complicating things, the characters you wanted to take with you to final branches of the mission might be the very people best suited for these earlier tasks.
“Mass Effect 2 isn’t just one of the greatest science fiction games of all time, but one of the best science fiction experiences in any medium, full stop”.
Getting everyone out alive is a truly Machiavellian task, requiring either a guide or multiple playthroughs in order to get it precisely right. To that end, my feeling is that it’s better to go at it honestly the first time around, dealing with the requisite losses that this experience entails. After all, it isn’t really a suicide mission without a couple of casualties right? Even with all of my preparations and foresight, I lost Tali and Legion in the final mission, but for the fate of the human race, these losses were an acceptable cost.
Even outside the strength of this fantastic cast and the monumental undertaking of planning and executing this final mission, there were other key characters and elements introduced as well. The Illusive Man, voiced by the great Martin Sheen, emerged as a necessary evil, saving Commander Shepard from death but asking morally complex decisions to be made as the cost of doing business. The relationship with, and the choices the player makes, in regard to The Illusive Man have far-reaching consequences for the remainder of the series, and as he emerged to become a primary antagonist in the final game of the trilogy, the considerations to be made were vast and insidious by their very definition.
With so many factors working in its favor, Mass Effect 2 is the rare game that is so perfectly designed that both its predecessor and sequel suffer by comparison as a result. While the improvements of ME2 make it hard to go back to the original game, the scope and ambition of an entire cast that could be alive or dead at the end of the journey also neutered the third game, causing many of the best characters in the trilogy to be excised from the final leg of the trip.
Truly, Mass Effect 2 isn’t just one of the greatest science fiction games of all time, but one of the best science fiction experiences in any medium, full stop. Like The Empire Strikes Back before it, Mass Effect 2 is the best exemplar of its universe and what makes it compelling and worthwhile in general.
PAX South 2020 Hands-On: ‘Speaking Simulator,’ ‘Iron Danger,’ and ‘Wildermyth’
PAX South brought an extremely diverse lineup of games to San Antonio, and in this next roundup, it’s time to look at another diverse assortment of titles. These include Speaking Simulator, the surrealist take on the art of speaking, Wildermyth, a beautiful new RPG based on D&D, and Iron Danger, a surprisingly player-friendly take on roleplaying.
When asked why he was inspired to develop Speaking Simulator, the developer promptly responded, “I don’t know!” That was exactly what I felt while playing its demo at PAX. It left me mystified, amazed that it exists, overwhelmed by its complexity, and delighted with its absurdity. Speaking Simulator follows a highly advanced android tasked with assimilating into human society in order to gain world domination – and to do that, he’ll need to learn how to speak first. Players are thus tasked with controlling every aspect of this android’s face and guiding it through increasingly difficult social situations.
Speaking is an awkward art for many people (including myself), and Speaking Simulator is just that: awkward. You can control nearly every aspect of the android’s face. You can move its tongue with the left stick and its jaw with the right, while manipulating its facial expression, eyebrows, and more with other buttons. This leads to a delicate balancing act where complete control feels just barely out of reach so that you must always be alert and able to sufficiently direct your mechanical face.
During each conversation, you’ll have so many different moving parts to consider. You’ll have to follow prompts about where to move your tongue, how to adjust your mouth, how your face should look, and so on. The more complex the conversation, the trickier it is to speak. Scenarios during my demo included a date, a job interview, and the most normal social situation of all, speaking to a man while he’s using the toilet. And of course, if you don’t perform adequately in these conversations, then your face will start to explode – which is only natural for awkward conversations, after all.
Speaking Simulator is the definition of controlled chaos. It shows just how difficult it really is to be a human – controlling the face alone was far more than I could handle, as my frequent face explosions during my demo showed me. Playing Speaking Simulator was an equally hilarious and surreal experience, one that I can’t wait to experience in full when it releases on Switch and PC at the end of January.
Iron Danger was one of my biggest surprises at PAX South. When I arrived at the Daedalic Entertainment booth for my appointment with Iron Danger, I didn’t expect to enjoy it half as much as I did. As a western-styled, point and click RPG, Iron Danger was outside my comfort zone. Yet the game is explicitly designed for players like me, who can feel intimidated by the immense amount of strategies and decisions that the genre requires. This is thanks to its core mechanic: time reversal. Perhaps this mechanic isn’t entirely unheard of in RPGs (Fire Emblem: Three Houses comes to mind as a recent example), but the way it’s implemented in Iron Danger makes all the difference.
It begins simply enough for an RPG. Your village is under attack, and as you attempt to escape to safety, you have the misfortune of dying. But death is only the beginning: just as you fall, a mysterious being blesses you with the ability to rewind time at any moment you’d like. That means that if you ever make a wrong move during combat, then you can reverse that decision and try something else. Time is divided up into “heartbeats,” which are measured in a bar at the bottom of the screen. If you want to go back in time, simply click on a previous heartbeat. There’s no limit on how often you can use this ability: battles become a process of trial and error, of slowly rewinding and progressing as you discover what works. If you end up walking into an enemy trap, simply click back to the heartbeat before the ambush, and try a different strategy.
Iron Danger takes the stress out of roleplaying. RPGs are all about making decisions, and typically, making the wrong decision comes at a high price. But thanks to the time-reversal mechanic, Iron Dungeon gives you the room to experiment without consequence. As the developers at the booth explained to me, the ability to undo your actions turns Iron Danger into more of a puzzle game than an RPG. It’s all about evaluating your situation, the abilities at your disposal, the locations and actions of different enemies, and so on. And if everything goes wrong, then there’s nothing to worry about.
That doesn’t mean that Iron Danger will be too easy, however. Current indications point to the opposite. After I played through the tutorial, the developers took over and showed me an advanced, extremely complex level from later in the game, filled with deadly enemies and dynamic environments to consider, with fields that can catch on fire and explosive barrels to throw at enemies. You’ll have to constantly skip forward and backward in time only to survive. This combination of player-friendly mechanics and hardcore roleplaying combat is an exciting mix, extremely appealing for someone like myself who loves RPGs but doesn’t enjoy the stress that often comes with them.
In addition to video games, PAX South also had a substantial portion of the exhibit hall devoted to tabletop games – including, of course, Dungeons and Dragons. But if you wanted to experience D&D-style action without leaving the video game section of the expo, then Wildermyth perfectly fits the bill.
This new RPG is a hybrid between DnD storytelling and worldbuilding with XCOM-esque combat. Like D&D, it allows players to forge their own adventures and stories. Decisions during story events can impact everything from the way the larger story plays out to the weapons your character can use in each battle. Story sequences play out randomly, with events occurring differently depending on which enemies you’ve faced, which characters are in your party, which regions you’ve explored, and so on. It’s an extremely variable story, but with such adaptable writing, each story sequence feels natural, despite its apparent randomness. Instead, it should encourage replayability, to experience every possible story beat there is.
Combat plays out in a grid-based strategy style, similar to games like XCOM. Each character is decked out with unique abilities of their own, and can interact with their environment dynamically. My favorite ability to experiment with was with the mage character, who can imbue environmental objects with magical abilities, such as attacking enemies who get close or inhibiting nearby enemies with status debuffs. I loved exploiting my surroundings and constructing the best strategies during my demo, and cleverly using special abilities like these will likely be key to strategically mastering combat later in the full game.
Like so many other games at PAX, Wildermyth also boasts of a visually distinct art style. The entire game is framed as a storybook; narrative sequences play out in comic book-like illustrations, and environments and characters consist of flat paper cut-outs in 3D surroundings. Pair this with a muted color palette and a simple, hand-drawn style, and Wildermyth has a quaint, comfortable art style that really supports the fairytale feel of the whole game. Currently available on Steam Early Access, the full game is set to release later this year.
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