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E3 2017: Best in Show According to GS’ E3 Attendees

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Attending E3 2017 was an incredible opportunity, especially for a smaller media source like ours.  In many ways, Goomba Stomp is still in its infancy, and this was only the second E3 we’ve sent journalists to cover.  We’ve learned a lot through this year’s experience and now know what to expect of 2018’s E3.  One aspect of E3 that we don’t want to miss out on is highlighting the games, developers, and booths that stood out above the rest.  As we’ve now seen first hand, it’s fairly standard practice for media outlets to visibly nominate and award the best in show.  Despite not being prepared at the conference itself, we wanted to give our post-E3 shout-outs to those we thought were a cut above the rest.

Here are some thoughts on who Goomba Stomp would have given Best in Show awards to according to the writers who attended, Patrick Murphy, Ryan Kapioski, and myself.

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Tim: We missed the opportunity to give out show awards, the Golden Goombas or the Stompies, if you will.

Ryan: I’m a fan of the Stompies!

Tim: So, as Goomba Stomp’s E3 attendees, those stomping around E3…Mario, Luigi, and Peach, I guess-

Patrick: Wait a second, who’s Peach?  I’ll be Waluigi, how ’bout that?

Tim: Hopefully we come to some sort of consensus, but, going category by category, what were the best games of E3 2017?

BEST FIGHTER OF E3

Ryan: Ah, geez, I’m gonna have to give it to Dragon Ball FighterZ.  It just looks beautiful and plays wonderfully.  Getting combos off is still difficult, but manageable, and part of that is that I’m not a big fighter fan.  But getting off an Instant Transmission or Kamehameha just felt great.  I love the Dragon Ball Z franchise, and this is doing everything right.  Shout out to Gundam Versus and Dissidia though.

Patrick: No fighter was the best fighter of E3 ’cause I don’t like fighters.

*laughter*

Tim: That’s an awesome answer.  I’m with Ryan, though.  I’m not a huge fighter, but something about Dragon Ball FighterZ appealed to me at the very core of my being.  All of the action-packed, combo nature of Street Fighter or Marvel vs. Capcom with the glorious animation of the DBZ anime?!  It’s gotta be the best fighter of the show.

BEST ACTION/ADVENTURE GAME OF E3

Patrick: That is a tough one.  There were a lot of great action/adventure sort of games.  I’m going to stick with Super Mario Odyssey being a platformer, so I’m going to go with Fire Emblem Warriors.  I enjoyed the hell out of that game!  It’s gorgeous…it’s just…cheesy action at its finest: mowing down armies of enemies, crazy cutscenes, all the things that made Hyrule Warriors a great game but transposed to the Fire Emblem universe!  I can’t wait.

Ryan: I’m going to have to agree with you.  Fire Emblem Warriors is great fun.  I absolutely love it along with the rest of the Warriors franchise, and I’m glad they are taking risks with this.  Adding in elements of Fire Emblem, it just feels natural.  This has my vote.

Tim: As much as I want to ride that bandwagon with you guys, this looks great, and I love me some hack and slash, I’m gonna ride the pirate hype ship of Sea of Thieves.  So much promise!  It’s visually striking.  Very bright and appealing, a call back to Monkey Island, maybe.  It’s got such a strong sense of atmosphere, it feels like Disneyland attraction, like Pirates of the Caribbean, with as much charm and heart.  If we’re talking action/adventure, it’s gotta be Sea of Thieves.  It’s drowning in a sense of exploration and adventure.

BEST RPG/TACTICS GAME OF E3

Patrick: I only played one true RPG or tactics game, so I’m going with Mario + Rabbids.  I’m not a huge tactics guy, but it was fun.  I had a good time with the intro regardless of how poor my decision making was when playing it.

Ryan: My vote has to go to Ni No Kuni II.  It looks beautiful, and Ghibli knocked it out of the park! (Editor’s note: while a lot of key members who worked on the original Ni No Kuni from Studio Ghibli returned for the sequel and the sequel consequently wears the signature marks of the studio, the studio itself is not involved in the production of the game.) The combat was the most surprising thing for me.  It’s very fluid.  It isn’t turned based, so you can run around the map yet you still use strategy elements to tackle the [demo’s] boss.  I loved that.  It’s made me want to plug back in my PS3, which I’m pretty sure will explode if I do, just so I can play the original.

Tim: I don’t think either of these choices are wrong.  Mario + Rabbids is a unique tactics game like XCOM with an emphasis on mobility and set in the Mushroom Kingdom.  Part of it reminds me of when Square made Super Mario RPG, and this holds all of that promise.  That said, I loved the visuals and combat of Ni No Twoni.  It was the only thing that rivaled Dragon Ball FighterZ visually but with a combat sort of akin to Kingdom Hearts.  Both are going to be great, so each gets a win in their respective category.

BEST INDIE OF E3

Patrick: This one’s gonna be a tie for me between Bloodstained and The Artful Escape.  The Artful Escape is an absolutely gorgeous, atmospheric…sort of…puzzle-solving maybe with some action stuff… I don’t know if it’s got action in it.  But it takes place in this gorgeous, moody, atmospheric, lavender world, at least from what I played of it, with lots of neon, rock-show type effects added in.  Whereas, Bloodstained was everything I wanted to see from a Metroidvania style game.  Both of them were gorgeous in different ways and Bloodstained plays so well that I’m going to enjoy the process of jumping and slashing my way through that.

Ryan: I didn’t get a chance to play The Artful Escape, but it looked wonderful.  That said, playing Bloodstained, it made me want to play a Metroidvania style game so bad that I’m actually playing through Super Metroid right now.  It just felt great and it looked even better.  I’m very excited for its release.  I can’t wait.

Tim: I’m a (blood) sucker for gothic, action-type games.  Bloodstained is Castlevania: Symphony of the Night reborn.  It’s sensational.  As a side note, how great is it that we have not one Metroidvania game to look forward to, but two since Nintendo is giving us Return of Samus, or, uh, Samus Returns…?  I don’t know….

Patrick: If Samus Returns was an indie game, I would have given it to that.

BEST SHOOTER OF E3

Ryan: This is a problem, there were a lot of great shooters at E3 and I only got to play two.  It has to be LawBreakers.  It was great fun playing with low gravity, trying to complete the objective with these weird classes they’ve made.  I absolutely loved what I played.  I’m happy that it’s coming so soon!

Patrick: I’m gonna say Splatoon 2.  I only played the new mode, Salmon Run, but it felt so good and so different from the rest of the game that it built a ton of confidence that there’s going to be a ton of content coming with this.  It’s going to easily rival how great the original Splatoon ended up being, it still feels fantastic, it is still one of the most fun shooters out there.

Tim: The correct answer here is Splatoon 2, and it took everything in my being to force myself into new experiences and to not instantaneously go for what I really wanted to play.  But with Battlefront II being a sequel, along with Splatoon and Destiny, which I didn’t get to play, I’m going to give it to something new, and that’s LawBreakers for quite literally pushing the boundaries of what a shooter can be.  The gravity-defying combat as they’re calling it is pure genius.  While in air, you shoot a gun and you go backwards.  That’s great.

HONORABLE MENTIONS AND PERSONAL RECOMMENDATIONS

Ryan: I already gave Dragon Ball FighterZ an award, but, my god does it deserve the Best Looking in Show.  Everything about it looked absolutely perfect.  I can’t help but wonder why it isn’t out right now so I can relive these Dragon Ball Z fights!  It looks so good!  The trailer doesn’t do it enough justice!

Patrick: It wasn’t my indie pick, but I’m going to highlight a niche title that I stumbled across in the indie-cade called The Case for Distrust.  It’s this sort of 1930s, noir style, point-and-click adventure that had this incredible visual style to it.  The developer and I talked about its inspiration, the artwork of Saul Bass, who was a poster designer for artists like Hitchcock.  There were so many references to old, noir stories, including the Maltese Falcon, it was right up my alley as a movie lover, and I want to see more of it.

Tim: I’m gonna give an award to Sea of Thieves for intriguing me beyond reason.  Twenty minutes is not enough time with the game, there’s so much to see, so much to do…so what’s wrong with taking the back street?  And now I’m going to go hang myself for that reference.  Anyway, yeah, Sea of Thieves seems like it’s going to be amazing.

BEST BOOTH OF E3

Patrick: Nintendo, easy.

Ryan: Yeah, Nintendo.

Tim: *Smash Bros. announcer voice* No contest.

BEST GAME OF E3 2017

Patrick: I’m going to go with Super Mario Odyssey.  That’ll come as no surprise to anybody, me being a huge Nintendo fan.  But it was genuinely the most fun game I played there.

Ryan: Part of me wants to give it to LawBreakers, but no, Super Mario Odyssey.  So much of what I played left me wanting to play more.  As soon as you’re done playing, you wanted to hop right back in line and play again.  This is going to be a lot of what I play this winter.

Tim: Yeah, we were given a booth tour by Nintendo behind closed doors and I could have picked any game in Nintendo’s lineup to play and I chose to play Odyssey again.  That’s how good it was.  It brings Mario back to the sandbox of 64 but with a much larger world.  You’re never taken out of the experience, even after collecting a moon piece.  It’s something new, something different…and you’ve got a cool hat.  Anyway, that does it for our Best of E3.  Next year we’ll bring actual awards.

nintendo

Patrick: We’ll bring some cutout Goombas.

Ryan: Tim had the idea of spray painting Goomba amiibo gold.

Tim: Everyone would be like, “What’s that golden Goomba?”  It’s like free publicity!  And by free I mean the $15 each amiibo costs plus the price of gold spray paint.  Either way, I can’t wait for some of these games to come out and for next years E3

3 Comments

3 Comments

  1. Ricky D

    June 23, 2017 at 2:21 am

    It’s too bad none of you got a chance to play the Spider-Man game. It looks incredible.

    • Ryan Kapioski

      June 23, 2017 at 3:32 am

      As far as we could tell, Spider-Man wasn’t actually playable unless you got a private tour. The PlayStation app only had a 30 minute let’s play of it in one of the theaters.

      • Ricky D

        June 23, 2017 at 2:23 pm

        Yeah, you needed to speak to a Sony rep and get an invite to the private booth. It seems they only let big outlets play these games which brings me to the point I made on the podcast … does Sony actually care about E3 now? The clearly don’t care to let their fans try the game, only the press.

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‘Castlevania Bloodlines’: The Official Sega Genesis Sequel to Bram Stoker’s Hit Novel, Dracula

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Castlevania Bloodlines

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. 

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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.

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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

xo19

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

xo19

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

xo19

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

xo19

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

xo19

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.

Honorable Mentions:

Bleeding Edge Release Date

KartRider Drift Reveal/Closed Beta Announcement

Last Stop Reveal

Wasteland 3 Release Date

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‘Garden Story’ First Impressions: The Coziest of Adventures

Long-awaited Twitter darling Garden Story just released its first demo. Here’s what we learned after playing through it twice.

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Following the unfortunate (but understandable) delay of Animal Crossing: New Horizons, there’s been a distinct lack of chill, aesthetic games to fill the void. Garden Story’s charming environmental art and animation have earned it a dedicated social media following, but it wasn’t until Picogram released a demo just a couple of days ago that anyone with a Steam account could actually experience the game for themselves. So, just how fun is this wholesome little RPG?

Setting the Scene

Garden Story’s demo centers around the newly-appointed village guardian Concord (a grape) and their first steps in rebuilding Autumn Town, a community ravaged by a sinister force known as “the Rot.” Chatting with villagers reveals a bit of insight into the situation at hand; it’s soon clear just how much the other townsfolk need the player’s support.

There are several clear parallels to old-school Legend of Zelda titles here, but Garden Story manages to set itself apart rather quickly. For one, this isn’t a solo adventure; the player sets out with Rana (a frog) and Fuji (a tomato) on a friendly quest to be as helpful to the surrounding community as possible. Seeing friends around and watching cute scripted cutscenes between the crew does a great job of instilling a sense of camaraderie and friendship.

In another pleasant twist, everything here is themed around building rather than destroying. Instead of traditional swords and bows, Concord repurposes his dowsing rod and scavenging pick into makeshift weapons. The combat itself calls to mind Stardew Valley; simple, minimal, and clearly not the main focus. There’s a pesky stamina bar that restricts the number of times Concord can attack and how far they can run, frequently forcing players to pause between barrages. In this way, encounters often come off as more of a necessary evil in Concord’s town rehabilitation journey than a main attraction.

Rebuilding a Community

So, how does one go about aiding the town? The method highlighted in the demo was by attending to a quest board with three different types of requests: Threat (combat), Repair (exploration), and Want (gathering). Each is accompanied by a task that plays an integral part in keeping Autumn Town safe and in good working order (e.g. clearing out Rot, finding sewer access so new resources can flow into town, and so on).

Aside from fulfilling requests, there are a few interesting hooks to incentivize hitting every shiny thing you come across regardless. The more different types of items are scavenged, and the more catalogues are filled by being updated with new materials, the more literature becomes available to give little bits of insight into Garden Story’s world and history. Then, in another parallel to Stardew Valley, any leftover resources can be sold in the pursuit of buying tool upgrades.

While the full game will feature four locations to explore and tend to, there was still plenty to do in Autumn Town itself by the end of the demo. Rana mentioned that villagers will post new requests daily, and the demo even featured a mini side quest (called “favors”) that led me to obtain a brand-new tool. Between daily requests, favor fulfillment, and dungeons spread across four different regions, it’s looking like there will be a good bit of content here for those who really want to hang around Garden Story’s world for as long as possible.

Ambient Appeal

Though it remains to be seen just how enticing its complete gameplay loop and accompanying systems are, Picogram’s latest is already delivering on its core appeal: being a cozy, relaxing experience. The color palette is soft, the lighting is moody, and the soundtrack is right up there with the Animal Crossing series as having some of the most mellow, loopable tunes around.

In fact, it’s the sound design in particular that gives Garden Story such an intimate feel. From the sound of a page-turning when entering and exiting buildings to the gentle gurgles of a bubbling brook in the forest, it’s clear that composer Grahm Nesbitt poured a ton of love into making this one feel just right. Here’s hoping the full game more than delivers on all the potential shown here.

Garden Story is slated to release in Spring of 2020 and is available to wishlist on Steam.

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