10. Kirby’s Epic Yarn
Certainly not what we expected out of the first Wii Kirby title but Kirby’s Epic Yarn is just that: a charming, fun, tale exploding with glee. The game is just so damn nice to look at, with flowing rivers made by waves of string of yarn, buildings that are tightly knitted bundles, and enemies composed of – you guessed it – YARN. All of this gives Kirby’s Epic Yarn a unique sense of flare. Anyone can see it and recognize it as “that yarn game.”
The gameplay, while easy, is insanely fun. Goring enemies with Kirby’s yarn whip is satisfying, and flinging their unraveled carcasses at their friends is equally so (and a little darker than I remember). Exploring the yarny worlds is enjoyable, as every nook and cranny have cute, little details to swoon over. Kirby himself is also head-throbbingly adorable. Instead of the dash found in the earlier games, he turns into a little car that bumps his head into stuff and melts your heart. He can also turn into a parachute to softly glide down with a big smile, or a submarine to go underwater to discover little treasures, and even a penguin to surf his way down a mountain, having fun the entire way.
This game is cute, which might be a little obvious at this point. It’s easy to grab a friend, sit down, and beat the entire journey in one sitting – a sitting filled with lots of “awww”s, “sooo cute”s, and a startling loss of man points. (Ricardo Rodriguez)
9. Wii Sports
The game that time forgot, Wii Sports was a paragon of motion control gaming disregarded by virtue of its obviousness. What more could possibly capitalize upon the Wii’s motion control and couch-competitive-friendly atmosphere than “Tennis”, a game in which players thrashed their Wiimotes around as quickly as possible while their bumbling bobble-head avatars hurled across the pitch until one of them collapsed? Brawl might have been the public’s competitive Wii game of choice, but the game still had you play as if you were using just another controller. Wii Sports made you play with motion control better than anyone – and it was free. (Liam Hevey)
8. Mario Kart Wii
As with every Nintendo console, the Wii ushered in a new era of Mario Kart. It’s been happening since the release of the Super Nintendo Entertainment System was released in 1991, and there has been a continuous stream of great karting games ever since.
Mario Kart Wii was a highly anticipated title, as it was set to carry on the legacy of Mario Kart onto a brand new platform, one that was revolutionary in its own right, as it brought forth an innovative new motion control mechanic that had never been experienced in a home console before. People all over the world were anxious to see how this new motion control would affect the nature of Mario Kart, with longtime fans of the Mario Kart series in turmoil, tainted by uncertain feelings about the role motion controls would play in this brand new installation.
Luckily, Nintendo handled Mario Kart Wii just right. The motion controls are present, but not a decisive factor in playing the game, and Nintendo fans still have the opportunity to go about their Mario Kart business as always, despite still being faced with the sense of innovation that Nintendo made their name from. No matter what new gimmick the console came with, the components that make up Mario Kart are still very much intact. The maps are fun to play, and some of them, like Maple Treeway and Coconut Mall, are in fact some of my favorite maps to date. The characters we know from the previous games are still present and playable, alongside a large variety of new additions to the roster. In conclusion, Mario Kart Wii manages to stay true to the previous installations of the series, whilst overcoming the controversy that followed the console and its features. (Johnny Pedersen)
7. New Super Mario Bros. Wii
Through New Super Mario Bros. Wii, Nintendo managed to bring a beloved reinvention of a beloved game back to the big screen. The original Super Mario Bros. released for the NES has achieved legendary status because of how it managed to redefine the 2D side-scrolling platformer, eventually spawning a few direct sequels and a plethora of games that chose to make use of the formula the game had brought to the scene. Then, in 2006, Nintendo completely revamped the game and released it for the DS, having it brandish new 3D-graphics, improved design, and new levels and entities. The game instantly became a classic, managing to reach a huge number of players due to its immersive gameplay and availability.
Nintendo must have figured this game was worth betting on because only a short while later they released another version of the game, this time for the Nintendo Wii. The graphics were further improved, new levels were designed, and new game mechanics were included, having the players make use of the motion controller that came with the console. The main factor that helped catapult the game into a spot within the Wii Hall of Fame, however, was the multiplayer function. NSMBW can be played cooperatively with great ease, players dropping in and out without any hardship, the entirety able to be played to completion regardless of how many players partaking in the action. This makes New Super Mario Bros. Wii a classic reinvention of a classic reinvention of a classic game. (Johnny Pedersen)
6. Super Smash Bros. Brawl
After Super Smash Bros. Melee proved itself a massive success following its release on the Nintendo GameCube, fans worldwide were curious as to how Nintendo was going to follow it up. The Super Smash Bros. series itself had grown to become a favorite amongst both casual Nintendo gamers and avid followers of the company, and tensions were high when it became clear that Nintendo was making an installation for the Nintendo Wii.
Super Smash Bros. Brawl builds upon the foundations of its predecessors in many ways. It improves upon the game mechanics in general, making sure the formula of the gameplay remains perpetually relevant and playable, while also expanding the roster of characters, adding a lot of new opportunities to the game, and providing a more immersive experience overall.
All of this aside, the most prominent feature of Super Smash Bros. Brawl is how it builds upon the universe of the game itself. There had been a vague sort of storyline present in the two previous installations of the series, but Brawl manages to expand this feature massively. The game features a story unlike anything the Super Smash Bros. franchise had ever seen in the past, making use of the coalition of franchises included in the series and expanding upon it, creating a plethora of lore, boss battles, and character development – all of it playable in the new game mode, titled “The Subspace Emissary”.
Say what you want about The Subspace Emissary, but Nintendo once again took initiative and displayed their incredible sense of innovation by creating new aspects and improving upon aspects already in place in one of their most famous game series to date. Because of this, Brawl turned out to be one of the most memorable Wii titles to date. (Johnny Pedersen)
5. Xenoblade Chronicles
By 2012 the JRPG genre was in steep decline. Intensely rebuking Final Fantasy XIII, fans of the genre looked for a new series to become the standard by which other JRPGs were judged. After an intense localization battle that saw Nintendo recognize consumer demand for Xenoblade Chronicles in North America, the JRPG fanbase was given that chance.
Despite launching while the Wii was being not-so-quietly put out to pasture, Xenoblade Chronicles was a critical hit (pun intended) that shattered expectations and put unknown second party developer Monolith Soft on the map. Headed by famed Japanese game developer Tetsuya Takahashi, Xenoblade Chronicles manages to take Takahashi’s famed talent with exposition and control it, producing one of gaming’s most finely crafted stories in the process.
Whereas Takahashi’s previous titles such as Xenogears and Xenosaga completely embrace the traditional nature of previous JRPGs, Xenoblade took emphasis from Western MMOs, added a finely tuned story, and integrated what ranks as one of gaming’s greatest soundtracks into a hundred hour long epic, refocusing the entire JRPG industry in the process.
From its impressive setting upon the bodies of two deceased titans to its impressive art direction and its expressive characters, Xenoblade Chronicles is a masterpiece that needs to be savored from beginning to end and is well worth the time it takes to uncover its mysteries. (Izsak Barnette)
4. The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword
Fans had to know that Nintendo was up to something truly special when they announced that Skyward Sword would officially become the first game in the Legend of Zelda timeline. Fortunately, Nintendo delivered on all of those expectations and more with The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword.
A game that took the revolutionary/gimmicky motion controls of the Wii to their fullest extent, Skyward Sword is almost worth playing as much as a proof of concept as it is for its breathtaking adventure and wholly original take on the Zelda mythos.
Set among a series of floating islands that eventually give way to a shattered world below, Skyward Sword both echoes the world design of one of the best Zelda titles in history in the form of The Wind Waker and calls to mind the scale of the Final Fantasy series in equal measure.
Throw in some gorgeous art design and one of the most concise plots in the franchise and you’re left with a truly underrated classic, easily one of the best games in the series. (Mike Worby)
3. The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess
Twilight Princess is great, which is unsurprising considering its heritage, but much like any other Zelda, it’s great because of what makes it different from the rest of the series. Majora’s Mask is dark. Really dark. Twilight Princess is also dark but in a different way. It’s one of the most adult games in the franchise due to its in-your-face ambiance and surprisingly spooky locations. The dreary settings really help immerse the player into this startlingly depressing world. A poisoned forest, frozen lake, and haunted prison are just a few of these absolutely haunting locations. The game’s soundtrack also adds to its atmosphere. There are a few beautiful songs, but most are just as unsettling as the places they surround.
The enemies are equally as disturbing. They look surprisingly realistic, despite their obviously fantastical designs. There are gross, warty goblins, humongous frogs, fish hybrids, and even Ganon joins the in on the unnerving fun. His pig form is actually pretty horrifying in Twilight Princess, in contrast to his more cartoony looks in the previous Zeldas.
The story in Twilight Princess is quite a hallmark for the rest of the series. Out of all the previous games, including The Wind Waker, its characters feel the most human. They’re acutely aware of the horrible circumstances around them and react accordingly. Terror, sadness, and just plain depression are emotions expressed exceedingly well by all of the characters. For all of these reasons, Twilight Princess is a game that’s hard to forget. (Ricardo Rodriguez)
2. Super Mario Galaxy 2
Few sequels can quite capture the brilliance of their predecessors. Many thought that Nintendo had caught lightning in a bottle when they released the original Super Mario Galaxy in 2007, but 2010’s Super Mario Galaxy 2 set a new bar of excellence for the plumber’s adventures.
By incorporating classic elements such as Yoshi and by creatively imagining new elements, such as the Cloud Flower, Nintendo breathed life into the Galaxy series while also maintaining the quality present in the original.
In many ways, Super Mario Galaxy 2 surpasses the original Galaxy. The levels are more creative, the power-ups are more interesting, and the introduction of Yoshi adds creative flair to the level design. The music is equally stunning, matched only by the original Galaxy in its brilliance. Mahito Yokota, Ryo Nagamatsu, and Koji Kondo’s soundtrack embodies the wonder and thrill of space while incorporating classic Super Mario themes excellently.
While some may call it nothing more than DLC for the original, Super Mario Galaxy 2 improves on the first game dramatically while also adding enough inventive, fresh content to make this game the definitive Galaxy experience. (Izsak Barnette)
1. Super Mario Galaxy
Super Mario Galaxy is not only the best title on the Nintendo Wii, it is the single greatest example of what the entertainment medium of gaming has to offer. It is the definition of a masterpiece: unprecedented level design, an endless stream of imaginative and creative ideas, and (most importantly) a rock-solid gameplay system that stands head and shoulders above every other 3D title, period. Galaxy is the culmination of everything Nintendo EAD Tokyo has learned from years of game development. The awe-inspiring orchestral soundtrack and second-to-none visuals create an experience that simply does not age. All of this is backed by a staggering amount of content in the form of collectible stars that are represented as completely unique challenges. Nintendo has once again succeeded in highlighting the best of what games have to offer. There is no over-reliance on narrative, no over-complicated gimmick that tries too hard to be unique; it is the quintessential gameplay experience, perfected. (Zack Rezak)
15 Years Later: ‘Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater’ Is Kojima’s Espionage Love Letter
On November 17th, 2004, Metal Gear Solid 3 was released, marking the first entry in what would become a major part of the Metal Gear Saga.
“After the end of World War II, the world was split into two — East and West. This marked the beginning of the era called the Cold War.”
On November 17th, 2004, Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater released in North America and Japan marking the first entry in what would later become a line of prequel games within the Metal Gear Saga. Big Boss’s story would finally be expanded upon in the Hollywood action game that forever changed the course of video game storytelling.
The legendary mercenary’s journey began in Kojima’s espionage love letter to the ’60s that broke the primordial gaming standards of both interactive design and visual storytelling through immeasurable gameplay depth piled onto a mind-boggling top-notch origin story. Snake Eater was only the beginning of a tale of how one of gaming’s greatest heroes descended into a villain through what is not only arguably the most compact and well-executed Metal Gear story, but Kojima Productions story ever conjured up to date.
Taking the Narrative Back
Snake Eater ditched Solid Snake and Raiden’s current predicaments in a postmodern world to provide audiences with background knowledge and explanations for the previous chapters that came before it in what was intended to be Hideo Kojima’s final Metal Gear game at the time. Cold War political fiction and espionage thrillers from the game’s time period such as the Sean Connery and Roger Moore James Bond 007 films became the foundation for this entry’s story and tone; a balance of both goofiness and seriousness that is simply unmatched when compared to the rest of the series.
Metal Gear Solid 3 marked the beginning of a prequel series of games that would later proceed to continue after Solid Snake’s story had concluded in Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots. Snake Eater threw players back in time to tackle the story of Metal Gear and Metal Gear 2: Solid Snake villain Big Boss, who was formerly referred to as three different names being John, Jack, and of course the iconic codename Naked Snake — the first character to take on the reptilian infiltration name.
Whereas Metal Gear Solid and Sons of Liberty questioned the fantasy aspects of the story, Snake Eater fully embraced the campiness that it provided. A gun-slinging, cat-growling GRU Major or a man who is able to manipulate bees are never questioned by the game’s characters. Nothing feels out of place due to how accepting everyone is of what is going on in their interpretation of history. The first fantasy aspect that players encounter is during the opening 5 minutes of the game when Naked Snake makes the HALO jump. The location the game takes place, Tselinoyarsk, is not the actual name of the location and isn’t an area of the world that has jungles.
Political fiction often comes into play during the story by incorporating real figures and the game’s characters into events that actually happened during the height of the Cold War. For example, Eva and Ocelot are depicted as the two NSA codebreakers, Martin and Mitchell, who defected to the Soviet Union. Weapons and designs featured in the game such as the hybrid screw-propelled metal gear, the Shagohod, are based on real blueprints for military weapons of the time period. While the story incorporates science fiction and fantasy aspects, the story still remains grounded and has its own limits even in gameplay.
A Whole New Meaning to Survival
When Hideo Kojima and Yoji Shinkawa saw the 1987 movie Predator, one concept from the film that stuck with them was how the technologically advanced alien Predator used camouflage within the jungle setting to stealthily take out a military rescue team lead by Arnold Schwarzenegger. Camouflage became part of the foundation for Snake Eater‘s gameplay that delved into the realism and campy side of the series. Players could swap outfits and face paints at any given moment to adapt to their current surroundings. The top right-hand corner has a camouflage index that constantly keeps track of how well-hidden you are in the environment.
Just as gadgets are a critical part of James Bond’s arsenal of weapons, Snake Eater saw the Metal Gear Solid series expand on the variety and utilization of items. The number of different ways to tackle standard environmental obstacles and boss battles was exponentially increased due to how many ways one could actually use their equipment. Grenades, lethal firearms, night-vision goggles, cigarettes, and even cardboard boxes all inherited a multi-functional philosophy that most players would never even discover unless they had experimented during their playthrough or were told to do a specific action. Even food became a weapon of war that could be used to poison and distract guards if it had gone spoiled.
On the topic of food, alongside the standard health bar, Snake has a stamina meter that must be ministered to constantly by eating foods found on-site and administering proper medical treatment. Animals, fruit, medicinal items, and various packaged resources must be collected and watched over throughout the game. All food items ran on a real-time clock leaving food to go unsanitary and rotten after a matter of real-time days.
The Beginning of Product Placement
The Metal Gear Solid series kickstarted Hideo Kojima’s constant usage of product placements within his games that are still ongoing today. These products include but are certainly not limited to clothing, accessories, toys, household items, and of course, food. Snake Eater began a trend of future Kojima Production games featuring real-life items that are purchasable in many small scale and large retail stores throughout Japan through the brand of nutritional energy bars and gels, CalorieMate.
The chocolate-flavored CalorieMate Block appeared in the original version of Snake Eater, while the maple-flavored kind replaced it in the HD Collection due to it being the latest flavor release at the time. Advertisements for CalorieMate during the game’s release showed Naked Snake holding a chocolate-flavored Block saying “If you wanna survive in the jungle, your going to need one of these.”
When initiating a Codec call with Paramedic after eating a CalorieMate Block, the character will question the legitimacy of the food. In reality, CalorieMate first released in 1983, contradicting the 1960’s setting of the story, therefore, making its placement in the game an anachronism; an object or person that is displaced in time.
A Legacy Worthy of The Big Boss Rank
At the time of Snake Eater’s release, although the game garnered a completely positive reception from critics with a 91 Metacritic score, it was highly debated whether the sequel-prequel was superior to the entries that came before it. Critics commonly praised the graphics and cinematics the game had to offer but questioned whether the gameplay was too complex for its own good. Snake Eater also had to ride the coattails of unsatisfied audiences originating from the previous entry’s lack of Solid Snake being the protagonist which ultimately lead to sales of the game being significantly lower than the previous Solid entries.
Over time, Snake Eater became the fan-favorite entry of the series and would go on to receive the most re-releases out of all the Metal Gear games to date. Most notably, in 2006 Metal Gear Solid 3: Subsistence expanded upon the online mode in the game and added a completely new third-person controlled camera system that enhanced the overall experience and became the right analog stick standard for future entries. Buyers of this version were also treated with the original two MSX Metal Gear games found on the main menu- the first time the original Metal Gear and Metal Gear 2: Solid Snake had ever been localized outside of Japan.
2011 saw the release of the Metal Gear Solid HD Collection, a compilation title that included an updated version of Subsistence — arguably the best way to play Snake Eater today. In 2012 the game also saw a release on the Nintendo 3DS dubbed Metal Gear Solid 3D: Snake Eater which included a new real-life camera camouflage system and multiple gameplay changes inherited from Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker to accommodate the 3DS’s lack of dual analog sticks.
Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater is a true patriot that definitively holds its ground against the rest of the series today due to its creative liberties that the series never quite revisited in complete depth. Hideo Kojima and his team of masterminds behind Kojima Productions are well deserved of a salute for the tremendous efforts they put into creating a groundbreaking title that forever changed what it meant to be a cinematic video game. From its action-packed plot to its cinematic orchestra inspired-score, even after 15 years the pure indigenous nature of creativity from the studio never ceases to amaze audiences.
‘Castlevania Bloodlines’: The Official Sega Genesis Sequel to Bram Stoker’s Hit Novel, Dracula
Castlevania isn’t a dialogue-heavy series by any means, but it’s still home to one of gaming’s most compelling narratives. Equipped with only their ancestral weapon, the legendary Vampire Killer, descendants of the Belmont clan face off against Count Dracula every 100 years like clockwork (give or take). His resurrection is inevitable. Just as good will always triumph over evil, evil will rise again. Castlevania was about the cyclical nature of good and evil long before Dracula mused about the nature of humanity in Symphony of the Night. Castlevania chronicled the Belmont family’s centuries-long struggle to keep Count Dracula at bay, game after game. Of course, he wasn’t the Count Dracula– more a representation of evil– but that was as much a given as a Belmont rising up to wield Vampire Killer. Then Castlevania Bloodlines happened.
Released in 1995 exclusively for the Sega Genesis, Bloodlines may have looked like any other Castlevania game, but it marked a series of eclectic firsts for the franchise. Gone are the Belmonts and the game neither takes place inside of or involves getting to Dracula’s Castle. Bloodlines is even titled Vampire Killer in Japan, creating a bigger divide between it and previous entries, but that hardly compares to Bloodlines’ strangest contribution to the series: making Bram Stoker’s Dracula canon.
The nature of how Dracula fits into the Castlevania mythos isn’t as plain and simple as just taking the book as writ as canon, but it fits much cleaner than one would expect. Although Bloodlines may lift elements from the novel with its own embellishments, its changes are ultimately inconsequential. Quincey Morris doesn’t have a son in the novel, but he’s the only major character alongside Dracula not to keep a journal, keeping his background relatively obscured. Quincey also doesn’t sport his signature bowie knife in Bloodlines’ backstory, finishing Dracula off with a stake (instead of the Vampire Killer for whatever reason.)
There’s no mention of Jonathan Harker, Mina, or Abraham Van Helsing– and Dracula’s motives aren’t at all in-line with his novel counterpart’s– but Konami’s references to the novel make it clear that audiences are intended to consider the novel canon even if the details don’t quite match up. It seems a strange choice, especially for a franchise that was pushing its tenth anniversary by the time Bloodlines released in 1995, but it’s not a totally random decision on Konami’s part. Much like how Super Castlevania IV’s tonal maturity gave it a greater layer of depth, Bloodlines thrives off its connection to Bram Stoker’s Dracula.
If there’s one immediate benefit to tying Dracula to Castlevania: Bloodlines, it’s grounding the latter in some semblance of reality. Set in 1917, Vampire Killer was the most modern Castlevania to date– not just at its release, but until Aria of Sorrow was released in 2003. The games were never period pieces, but they were set far enough in the past where literal Universal Monsters wouldn’t keep the series from staying narratively grounded. More importantly, the series’ settings were always consistently gothic, creating a unique sense of style around Dracula himself rather than the time period.
Bloodlines opts for a wildly different approach altogether when it comes to setting, doubling down on the series’ historical elements while keeping Super Castlevania IV’s darker tone intact. Dracula feels a part of the world, rather than the world of Castlevania feeling a part of Dracula. At the same time, Bram Stoker’s Dracula helps ground the very minimal plot by giving John and Eric’s trek across Europe greater scope. John and Eric even have a personal stake in the plot, having witnessed Quincey’s death. It’s all window dressing, but Bloodlines’ assimilation of Bram Stoker’s Dracula gives the series some narrative legitimacy to rub shoulders with its high quality gameplay.
The connections to Bram Stoker’s Dracula are admittedly loose, but they’re loose enough to work in the game’s benefit. Dracula is structured as an epistolary novel with chapters divided in letters, journal entries, articles, and logs. The story is told coherently, but this approach often results in the point of view & setting changing. While uncertainly a direct reference to the novel, Bloodlines similarly allows players to switch between John & Eric whenever they use a continue on Easy mode, and each stage takes place in a different country rather than just Transylvania.
Bram Stoker’s Dracula may give Bloodlines its foundation, but it’s that globetrotting that gives the game its identity. Stage 1 opens in Romania, the ruins of Dracula’s Castle left to time after his previous defeat. Where other games would immediately transition into the depths of Castle Dracula, Bloodlines’ Stage 2 instead takes players to the lost city of Atlantis in Greece, while Stage 3 involves scaling the Leaning Tower of Pisa in order to slay a demon at the top. There’s a grandiosity to the stage design simply not present in previous entries. Not just in terms of scope, but in actual structure.
Only six stages long, Bloodlines is the shortest of the mainline Castlevania games, but it makes up for its lack of length with longer stages overall. The main story falls on the shorter side, but the stage to stage pacing ensures that Bloodlines neither outstays its welcome or goes too soon. While a Stage 7 may have done the game some good, Bloodlines’ six stages offer some of the tightest action-platforming in the franchise. Enemies are by no means infrequent, and Bloodlines requires players to understand both John & Eric’s unique platforming skills by Stage 3, outright preventing progress should players fail to adapt.
John’s unique platforming ability will be familiar to all those who played Super Castlevania IV as, predictably, he can use the Vampire Killer to hang. This time around, however, John can whip onto just about any ceiling. Eric, on the other hand, has a charged jump that thrusts him into the air when released. Eric’s jump ignores platforms entirely, allowing him a degree of verticality Castlevania typically doesn’t give to players. Stage 3 even features a room that’s a bottomless pit for Eric, but easy platforming for John thanks to its whip. Subsequently, there’s a room where John can’t make progress due to the ceiling, but Eric can jump right through.
John and Eric’s abilities are natural extensions & evolutions of Simon’s from Super CV IV, just split between the both of them, but it’s also worth noting how Bloodlines’ more involved platforming helps to further flesh out Castlevania’s world. Bram Stoker’s Dracula coupled with the European setting did more for the series’ world-building at the time than any of its predecessors, save for Rondo of Blood. It’s not often that a video game series absorbs a literary classic into its main plot, but Castlevania handles it surprisingly well.
It’s fitting that Castlevania Bloodlines is titled Vampire Killer in Japan. At its core, Vampire Killer is a recontextualization of Castlevania. The story is still framed through the Belmonts’ struggle against Dracula, but the scope is wider, extending mediums in the process. Vampire Killer is about the legacy of the Vampire Killer and the vampire killers whose fates are sealed by the whip. Symphony of the Night may be a direct sequel to Rondo of Blood, but Bloodlines set the stage for Symphony to tell a traditional and intimate story.
More important than anything, though, Castlevania taking Bram Stoker’s Dracula and making it a part of its canon is just so outlandish that it makes perfect sense. The series that regularly featured Universal Monsters as bosses was never going to ignore the novel forever. That Bloodlines uses the novel tactfully and in a game where its presence is appropriate– intentional or otherwise– weirdly elevates Castlevania as a franchise. Castlevania isn’t just a Dracula story, it’s the Dracula story. And of all the games to make that declaration with, Bloodlines is a damn good choice.
XO19: Top 10 Best Announcements of the Show
Xbox just had their best XO presentation ever, and it wasn’t even close. Here’s a rundown of the best announcements from XO19.
Microsoft had a lot to prove going into its fifth annual XO showcase. Console launches are on the horizon, cloud competitor Google Stadia is about to ship to early adopters, and Game Pass subscribers are as hungry as ever for new additions to the lineup. Then there’s the fact that XO has always been looked down upon by the gaming community in general as a lackluster, padded presentation.
All of that changed with XO19. This was, by far, the best XO in the event’s history. In fact, it featured more shocking reveals and genuinely impressive announcements than a good deal of Microsoft’s recent E3 press conferences. From new IP reveals, to first-time looks at gameplay, to a couple “I never would’ve believed you a week ago” shockers, it’s clear that Xbox stepped up its game from years past. Here’s our list of the best announcements of the show.
10. Everwild Reveal
It’s not too often that we get to experience a new IP from Rare. Their last attempt, Sea of Thieves, was a fully multiplayer, always-online affair that gradually garnered a cult following thanks to some of the best community engagement and most consistent content updates in the industry.
We don’t know what type of game Everwild is yet, but it’s certainly oozing that same colorful, ambient charm that made players fall in love with Sea of Thieves all those years ago. Seeing as how we only got a cinematic teaser, though, it might be quite some time before we’re running around these gorgeous environments.
9. ID@Xbox Lineup
The ID@Xbox team has pulled it off again. Despite being stuck with an almost insultingly poor time slot in the presentation, several of the indies shown off in this short montage rivaled some of the show’s AAA spotlights. It had everything from high-profile indies like Streets of Rage 4, Touhou Luna Nights, and the Yacht Club Games-published Cyber Shadow, to more modest beauties like SkateBIRD, Haven, Cris Tales, and she dreams elsewhere.
The best part? All of these are launching on Game Pass day and date. The worst part? No actual dates were announced for anything shown. Regardless, it’s encouraging that so many high quality indies are continuing to come to Xbox (and that relationships with Devolver Digital and Yacht Club are rock-solid).
8. West of Dead Reveal/Open Beta
Raw Fury has one of the better eyes in the indie publishing scene. Gems like GoNNER, Dandara, and Bad North have all released under their watch, and West of Dead might be their best acquisition yet. It’s a heavily-stylized twin stick shooter that switches things up by making tactical cover a core part of the experience.
The trailer hinted at roguelike elements being present, and the ever-popular procedurally generated levels should significantly up replayability. How it plays, however, remains to be seen…unless you have an Xbox, in which case you can play the exclusive open beta now before the full game comes to all platforms next year.
7. Halo Reach Release Date
The Master Chief Collection has long been the one golden goose that endlessly eludes those outside of the Xbox ecosystem. Earlier this year, though, Microsoft made waves when it announced that it was bringing the entire collection over to PC. Reach is the first step in that process, and it’s finally making its way to both PC and Xbox One as part of the MCC on December 3rd.
It’s just a date, but the fact that so many new players get to experience one of Halo‘s most beloved outings at last easily made it one of the highlights of the night.
6. Grounded Reveal
Who woulda thought? Fresh off releasing one of the best RPGs in years with The Outer Worlds, Obsidian decided to show off a passion project from one of its smaller teams: Grounded. The premise? Honey, I Shrunk the Kids: Survival Edition.
Players take control of kids the size of ants as they fight off actual bugs, cook, craft armor and weapon upgrades, and build shelter to survive in the wilderness of someone’s backyard. As silly as it sounds and looks, and as unexpected a project it is for Obsidian to undertake, it genuinely looks rather promising. The cheerful color palette is a welcome contrast to the dark, brooding aesthetic so many other survival games have adopted. There are plenty of details left to be uncovered, but if early impressions are anything to go by, this is one to keep on your radar early next year.
5. Age of Empires IV Gameplay Reveal
Age of Empires is one of the most esteemed strategy franchises in history. Despite having this beloved IP in their back pocket, however, Microsoft hasn’t published a new mainline game in the series since 2005. Age of Empires IV was originally announced over two years ago, and after buttering everyone up with the release of Age of Empires II Definitive Edition that afternoon, the first glimpse of gameplay was finally shown at XO19.
Simply put, the game looks gorgeous. Every building is full of detail and the countryside looks surprisingly lush and picturesque. Witnessing hundreds of units charging down the valley towards the stronghold in the trailer was mind-blowing as an old-school fan. They didn’t show off any innovations or moment-to-moment gameplay, but it’s looking more and more like the future of the franchise is safe in Relic’s hands.
4. Final Fantasy Blowout
Xbox’s success in Japanese markets has become something of a running joke over the years. Though inroads were clearly made with Bandai Namco, many more Japanese publishers won’t go within a mile of the platform. Possibly through working with Square Enix’s western division to put the latest Tomb Raider and Just Cause entries on board, it looks like the main branch has finally decided to give Xbox players a chance.
Starting this holiday, Game Pass subscribers will gradually get every single-player Final Fantasy game since Final Fantasy VII. More shocking still, The Verge reported that the Xbox team is working to get the massively popular MMO Final Fantasy XIV over as well. The sheer value of having every post-Super Nintendo Final Fantasy game included in Game Pass (even XV) is ridiculous. It remains to be seen what the rollout cadence of these ten titles will look like, but considering how long each of these are, one per month wouldn’t shock or disappoint.
3. The Reign of Project xCloud
With Stadia launching just next week, Microsoft had been surprisingly quiet on their cloud gaming front up to this point. The service had gone into preview for those lucky enough to get in and, by most accounts, it had been fairly well-received. The real question came down to what Xbox was going to do to make itself stand out from its competition.
The bombs dropped here felt like the equivalent to the thrashing Sony gave to Microsoft back at E3 2013. Microsoft shadow dropped 40+ new games into Preview for players to test (for free) including Devil May Cry 5, Tekken 7, Bloodstained, and Ace Combat 7. Even better, xCloud will support third-party controllers including the DUALSHOCK 4 and will finally show up on Windows 10 PCs in 2020.
Perhaps the most damning announcement, however, is that xCloud will be integrated with Game Pass starting next year. Only having to pay for a Game Pass subscription to access 100+ games and play them in the cloud (including Halo, Forza, The Outer Worlds, and all those Final Fantasy titles) makes xCloud a far better value than Stadia right out of the gate. If this didn’t force Google to adjust its strategy, we might be looking at a very short cloud gaming war.
2. Square Sharing the Kingdom Hearts Love
Kingdom Hearts 3 releasing on Xbox One was somewhat bittersweet. On the one hand, players who had left the PlayStation ecosystem after playing the first games had a chance to see the arc’s conclusion. On the other hand, new players had no options for going back and experiencing the series’ roots.
Kingdom Hearts HD 1.5+2.5 Remix and Kingdom Hearts 2.8 Final Chapter Prologue finally coming to Xbox next year is a godsend for younger players and new players alike. More important, however, is the tearing down of those over 15+ years old exclusivity walls. Just like with many of the Final Fantasys, the main Kingdom Hearts games had been married to PlayStation systems for years. This shift at Square is an exciting one, and it bodes particularly well for the next generation of Xbox hardware.
1. Yakuza Finally Goes Multi-Console
It seems like Phil Spencer’s trips to Japan finally paid off. In what was arguably the most shocking announcement of XO19 (right next to Kingdom Hearts), it was revealed that SEGA is taking the Yakuza series multi-console at last. Not only are Yakuza 0 and Kiwami 1+2 coming to Xbox, but all three are going to Game Pass next year as well.
Does this mean support from Japanese studios will increase across the board? Of course not. But getting big names like Bandai Namco, Square Enix, and SEGA on board is nothing if not encouraging. Xbox is clearly pulling out all the stops to ensure a diverse suite of third-party support come Scarlett’s launch next year, and it’s the healthiest the platform has looked in a very long time.
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