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How History Defines The Nintendo Switch

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There’s a paradigm that exists in the history of Nintendo. Isaac Newton and the apple tree had a taste of what was to come, and certainly, the phrase ‘what goes up, must come down’ became the path Nintendo gladly rode up until the unveiling of their latest console, the Nintendo Switch.

Nintendo has an unconscious habit of following the success of one console with a sleepwalk across a sink hole. Needless to say, Nintendo’s journey through the Hranice Abyss often leaves it with surprising ingenuity when it rises back to the surface. The yo-yo business style has often kept fans on the edge of their seats, and Nintendo hasn’t softened the chair with their painful unveiling of the Nintendo Switch. History, however, could prove to be Nintendo’s savior.

After the flourish of the 80s, ending with the release of the Game Boy which still remains their second highest selling console of all time, the 90s began with the respectable release of the SNES. While it sold 49.1 million units, it also started to lose its stranglehold on the market. The rise of Sega proved to be a worthy competitor and certainly offered a unique experience. Whilst Nintendo reaffirmed its position as family friendly, Sega released the Mega Drive which had a little more blood and guts with games such as Mortal Kombat.

Virtual Boy was an utter disaster.

With the new competition, Nintendo did what it does today, it innovated. However, just like today, sometimes these innovations went horribly wrong, and none more so than its attempt at virtual reality gaming, with the haply named Virtual Boy. It shifted under 800,000 units and was nothing short of a disaster. Its many failures included a high price, a monochrome display, a terrible 3D effect, and major health concerns. Physiological symptoms were common, including; dizziness, nausea, motion sickness and headaches. This pioneering tragedy hasn’t stopped Nintendo’s dream of a virtual reality console, with Miyamoto in 2014 stating they were working on a new virtual reality console based on the 3DS technology. Maybe the Nintendo 3DS will have a new virtual reality successor; let’s hope not.

A year later, Nintendo found some of its energy again and released the Nintendo 64. It sold 32.9 million units but faced new competition in Sony which released the PlayStation two years earlier. The PlayStation would thrive and sold over 100 million units, and would go onto to be the major success it is today. Ultimately Sony would be to Nintendo, what the Achaeans were to Troy, and lure much of the life that Nintendo breathed into Sony. However, the Nintendo 64 was still a huge hit, even with the hotly debated cartridges. The image of Nintendo only appealing to a young audience had certainly continued, and it would ultimately be the downfall of its next release, the Gamecube.

Selling only 22 million units to PlayStation 2’s 155 million, the Gamecube is considered a flop. Strangely, all things considered, the Gamecube was a fun console, offering new Nintendo classics such as Luigi’s Mansion and Pikmin. It missed the market, though, and by an unforgivable margin. The PlayStation 2 had become the first home entertainment system, it offered more than just gaming with the addition of playing movies. The Gamecube, with its mini-discs, missed the trend completely, and its odyssey to return would never materialize.

Fortunately, the Dark Ages would eventually end, and a new Enlightenment would uncover a new strategy. In 2004, Nintendo released their best selling console of all time, the Nintendo DS. It would sell 155 million units, and a large part of that was contributed to its appeal to untraditional gamers. At the time, smartphones weren’t around and there was only the Nintendo DS to play on the go. Suddenly, Nintendo found a place it could be called number one again, and it certainly started to become a little braver in its innovative spirit. In 2011 it was upgraded with 3D technology, becoming the Nintendo 3DS, selling a further 61 million units.

The Nintendo DS remains Nintendo’s best selling console.

In between the DS and the 3DS was another success story. the Wii. Recognizing it couldn’t compete with Sony, and now Microsoft, Nintendo developed a new idea for a home console entirely. Over 100 million units sold and suddenly Nintendo had found a new niche. The Wii used motion controls to follow the movement of the user which put the player in the heart of the game. This new approach to gaming opened up the industry to people that would have never considered gaming in their life. This was the first time in history it became safe to say ‘everybody is a gamer’. There wasn’t a person out there that didn’t have a system for their needs, and the industry has remained very saturated ever since.

But just as quickly as Nintendo rose, it fell. The release of the Wii U was a complete disaster, and the less said about it the better. Whilst by no means a bad console, it offered very little in the way of innovation and certainly lacked the vicissitude of the Wii. The Wii U, however, will help to define the success of the Nintendo Switch, and its failure could be a blessing in disguise.

Much like the waistline of someone on a fad diet, the accomplishments of Nintendo go up and down with each new console. The Nintendo 64 was up, the Gamecube was down. The Wii went up, the Wii U went down. So in theory, the Nintendo Switch should go up. This is a pattern that started in the early 90s and has continued until present day.

There are reasons why this pattern might end with the Nintendo Switch, however. With each ascension came a new wave of new users. Where Sony and Microsoft had taken fans, Nintendo had found new ones. The questions to ask is whether the Nintendo Switch is appealing to new users, and can it retain its core fan base? The latter is an obvious answer, with titles such as The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild and Super Mario Odyssey easily going to have already persuaded them to preorder. Would anybody else have preordered, though?

Nintendo Switch

Will history repeat itself?

In many ways, the Nintendo Switch is a console for the Nintendo fanatics, and maybe that’s its purpose. It’s certainly been designed that way, a hybridization of many unique strengths from each of the previous Nintendo consoles. It even initially seemed it was trying to appeal to an adult population that had grown up with Nintendo, that would now want to play Nintendo on the go. The recent presentation seemed to distance itself from that marketing strategy. They appear to want to style the Nintendo Switch as a home console that can become a handheld console, rather than a handheld console that can become a home console. This is a Carthaginian mistake. Styling it as such puts it into much greater competition with the PlayStation 4 and the Xbox One, both of which offer more as a home console.

For history to repeat itself, Nintendo needs to muster all its strength and creativity, and focus much more on the handheld side of the Nintendo Switch. Its two biggest selling consoles of all time have both been handheld, and it’s no coincidence that Nintendo dominates that market. Any attempts to rejoin the home console market would be futile, it’s so heavily saturated that only perfection would do. It is therefore in Nintendo’s interest to follow the success of its handheld consoles, and allow history to repeat itself again.

Lost his ticket on the 'Number 9' Luxury Express Train to the Ninth Underworld. Has been left to write articles and reviews about games to write off his debt until the 'powers that be' feel it is sufficiently paid.

3 Comments

3 Comments

  1. John Cal McCormick

    January 24, 2017 at 9:33 am

    Nintendo’s hardware sales, almost uniformly, trend downward generation on generation. Every one of their home consoles has sold less units than the one before it with the sole exception of the Wii. It’s not like the Wii U was a surprise. The Wii was the surprise. That was the anomaly. Everything else sits on the line of best fit. Handheld wise, it’s a little all over the shop, and it depends on what you count as a new console given how many iterations of their various systems there are, but it pretty much goes up from Game Boy to DS, down to 3DS significantly.

    You can’t really equate the quality of the system to the sales it musters up. That would be no more valid a statement than standing by the artistic merits of the Spice Girls because they sold records in the millions. It’s two separate arguments – the objective commercial successes of a console, and the subjective entertainment value attached to it.

    The GameCube, for example, I thought was a great system, with a lovely controller, and it had some top quality games for it. That’s what I think. But the market spoke, and it was a commercial failure.

    Personally, I’d argue that every Nintendo console with the possible exception of the Wii U has had more than enough in terms of quality content to justify a purchase – dependant on how much disposable income you have. Objectively, each console sold less than the last because Nintendo are struggling to make products that appeal to a mass audience.

    When it comes to the Switch, the smart money, based on the evidence we have, is that it doesn’t sell big. Something always bucks the trend, though.

    • James Baker

      January 24, 2017 at 10:08 am

      I agree with most of this. I’d argue the DS and the 3DS were the same system, just with the addition of a 3D gimmick that no one uses.

      My concern for the Switch is its replacing the Wii U, rather than the 3DS. The Switch being marketed as a home console concerns me because it doesn’t stand a chance competing with the PS4 and Xbox One on their turf. I get the joy-con is a clever trick, but the Switch as a handheld is where the market is. Mobile gaming is just an occasional fad (Pokémon Go for instance) whilst Nintendo has a solid core of fans to work with.

      I was full of hype on the first trailer, with 20 to 30 year olds playing on it in various ways. It’s well known that adults play Pokémon and children play Call of Duty these days. The idea of the Switch being adaptable to the busy life styles of today made it a fantastic concept. Their focus seems to have disengaged from that focus in the recent presentation, and only a few of their releases this year seem to focus on that demographic – Zelda and Mario for example.

      Nintendo isn’t going to outsell Sony and Microsoft anymore, so a more acute focus on their demographic would be a good economic model.

      • John Cal McCormick

        January 24, 2017 at 10:51 am

        I don’t think you can really combine the DS and 3DS under one banner, since the 3DS has noticeably different innards to the DS, and features games exclusive to the system that can’t be played on a DS. The 3D thing was a gimmick that nobody cared about, sure, but even if you ignore that the inner workings of the system are a different beast.

        How you perceive the DS and 3DS in regard to each other also has consequences as to your next point.

        If you consider the 3DS to be a separate console to the DS, then it’s fair to say that you can also make the argument that handheld gaming, generally, is on the wane. The 3DS has struggled, and will never catch up to the stellar sales of the DS. The PlayStation Vita has struggled, and will never catch up to the stellar sales of the PSP.

        What happened between those two generations of consoles? Mobile phone gaming took off. It could all be a big coincidence, but I suspect it isn’t. People don’t like carrying things around that we don’t need. That’s why iPods don’t exist in 2017. Our phones hook up to Spotify. We don’t need this extraneous device that just plays music.

        Similarly, we don’t really need dedicated handheld gaming devices. Sure, some people do. I buy them. Many gamers do. But to a lot of people – even people who ten years ago would have bought a DS for their daily commutes – the purchase of a dedicated handheld console seems unnecessary today thanks to the rise of smart phones.

        Conversely, home console gaming has never been more popular. Both the PS4 and Xbox One are two of the fastest selling consoles of all time. They’re killing it. It’s just Nintendo that can’t sell home consoles.

        So what does that tell us? That tells us that the market is ready, but that fundamentally, there’s something about Nintendo’s products that doesn’t appeal to it. It’s THAT that needs to change. And I don’t think it has, enough, with the Switch.

        In regards to how they’re marketing it, it’s a tough call. I get why you’d call it a handheld and a replacement for the 3DS – it’s better to the most powerful handheld than to be the least powerful, most expensive home console. But then I also get why they want to go the home console route – perhaps their data shows them too that handheld gaming is on a downward trend while home console gaming is up, and the Wii U is dead while the 3DS continues to sell so it makes more sense to axe the former.

        It’s hard to know which direction to go in with it.

        As I’ve been saying for years, Nintendo needs to get out of this weird middle ground they’re in if they want commercial success. They either need to be a cheap Nintendo machine, or a premium, everything machine. Currently, they’re the worst of both of those options. That’s why they’re not selling. And that’s what needs to change.

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

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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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