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Nintendo Direct E3 2019: The Good, the Bad, and the etc.

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Nintendo of late have flattered to deceive during their E3 Directs. Last year’s effort, through its 25-minute Smash instruction manual, painted something of a worrying picture for Switch owners. Where were the rest of the games? February’s Nintendo Direct was pretty huge in terms of new announcements and exciting games, so how would Nintendo build on that to keep the hype train rolling into the summer? I’m sure you already bloody well know, so let’s just get to the good, the bad, and the rest.

The Good

Nintendo don’t generally tend to do logical. The delivery of their current paid online service (coming in after being free for the first year of the Switch’s life cycle), the online voice chat through a mobile app, the (until yesterday) baffling choice to remove online co-op for Super Mario Maker 2, and cloud saves working on only some Switch games (despite working without issue for the same games on other platforms) — these are just some of their nonsensical missteps on the Switch alone.

Took me ages to twig it was Zelda.

The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild is an incredible game, one built around a framework that other open world games have arguably never bettered, and one that would, in most other company’s minds, be ripe to re-use for a quick sequel. But Zelda doesn’t really do sequels. Not since Majora’s Mask back in 2000 has Nintendo realized that the Hylian wheel doesn’t need to be reinvented every time if it’s working more than fine as it is.

In one of the very few actually surprising moments of E3 as a whole — let alone Nintendo’s relatively safe presentation — the sequel to Breath of the Wild was revealed with a cryptic and mysterious teaser. It was the type of saving grace that I can’t believe Nintendo hasn’t done in previous years. Those E3s where so little was expected of Nintendo that an HD port of Mario Sunshine would have been huge news are hopefully dead and gone now. They’ve finally realized that giving people more of something incredibly popular is as efficient as it is obligatory.

Wakey, wakey!

We know this game will play brilliantly, and the fact that it’s been set up with Link and Zelda exploring together and coming across spooky evil hopefully means we’ll see even more of a connection to Majora’s Mask if this game focuses on a darker, more narrative-heavy experience. We’ve enjoyed running around fields and dungeons; now it’ll hopefully be even better to care why.

The Bad

Doug Bowser really isn’t Reggie is he? Can you imagine him kicking ass and taking names? I think I’d prefer actual Bowser as head of NoA, because this guy sucks. His flat, unfunny introduction and nervous screen time was pretty embarrassing, and set the tone for a somewhat drab 45 minutes mostly filled with games we already knew about. The whole thing was very nearly a complete rehash of February’s Direct, but while the games were more unsurprising rather than bad, Bowser was just bad.

No, not him! You! You’re better!

The Hero

Nobody should have been surprised to see Nintendo open their E3 Direct with a new Smash Bros. character. I probably shouldn’t have been as surprised as I was when it was revealed to be The Hero from Dragon Quest. I can hear the sword-haters’ piss boiling from here. While the character is a ‘mainstay’ from one of the most renowned RPG series in the world, it’s hard to see his inclusion (in various guises) as anything other than a way for Nintendo to promote sales of Dragon Quest XI and Builders 2 in the West. Hey, it worked for Fire Emblem.

I legit didn’t know he was just called The Hero. Cool.

The Mansion

Luigi’s Mansion 3 will definitely be good. I don’t really need to see any trailers of it to know that and, frankly, I don’t want that much of the content to be revealed over finding it out for myself. It was nice to see some of the new features given a bit of a nod, proving that Nintendo have got plenty more ideas up their sleeves to make a third iteration viable. As good as the game’s going to be, this segment of the Direct was definitely more engrossing for my dog than it was for me…

“The hell are watching me for? It’s Luigi, man!”

The Expensive

Will someone please tell me why Switch games have to be quite so damned expensive? Why must I have my nostalgia glands tickled by an announcement of Collection of Mana, and then almost inevitably have them stomped on by a $40 price tag. I will remind you, one of these games is a Game Boy title. Forty sodding dollars.

Why must I want this so much?!

The Unlikely

The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt for Switch had been rumoured, but I never believed it possible. I still don’t, to be honest. That game had a crap ton of issues and wonkiness when it first launched on PS4 and Xbox One — you know, the consoles that are vastly superior to Switch in terms of hardware specs — back in 2015. Having resolved most of them, CD Projekt Red’s masterpiece stands tall as one of the greatest games of this generation, and I’m super annoyed that if it actually ends up miraculously working well on Switch that I’m going to have to buy and play it again.

I just don’t believe this. It has to be an optical illusion.

The Other Mansion

“You could play Resident Evil in a scary abandoned house!” Yes, Nintendo, that’s exactly the type of thing to encourage. This whole segment was almost totally pointless and insultingly cringey. Who, I ask, thought this was good? This managed to actually top the terrible influencers trailer for Life is Strange 2, and I didn’t think that was possible.

“Here, you do it,” says this absolute wrongun. Look at his face, he knew!

It did have a vague point of existence, which was to announce that Resident Evil 5 and 6 — the two worst ones — are coming to Switch, following closely in the wake of REmake, Resident Evil 0, and Resident Evil 4’s release earlier this month. Assuming 5 and 6 are as much of a shameless ripoff as those three games are, we’re basically being given the privilege of paying just $150 to have the majority of the Resident Evil games on Switch.

The Motion Controls

No More Heroes 3 looks like it has motion controls. I’m not sure how I feel about this (no pun intended). To be fair, if anything is going to force me to go all 2008 on my controller and start waggling by myself on the bus (just kidding, I’d never take the bus), then it’s going to be suplexing some fool.

Am I still not allowed to reference Chris Benoit for this type of thing?

The Speed Limit

What’s going on here? Did my stream slow down? Did someone hit the half speed button? I swear Panzer Dragoon is meant to be faster than this. If this comes anywhere near the fantastic Panzer Dragoon: Orta, we are all in for a bloomin’ good time, but this version needs to pick its heels up and get a move on.

I dunno, it just seems slow to me. Am I crazy?

The Return of the Kings

Platinum Games are back, baybee! It may look anime as hell, but Astral Chain can shut up and take my money right now. The eponymous chain mechanic looks all kinds of splendid, even if the premise and story is bound to be mad as a box of frogs. It’s not far off either, which reminds me…

I’d Tweet Hideki Kamiya to tell him how cool this looks, but he’d probably block me for it

The Impending

My word, there were a lot of games in this Direct that are coming out really soon. By the time this month is done, we’ll have our hands on Cadence of Hyrule, Crash Team Racing: Nitro Fueled, Bloodstained, and Super Mario Maker 2, with Fire Emblem: Three Houses and Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3 arriving in July. It’s been a slow year, but the summer bounty, she is plentiful.

The Cheek!

I cannot believe Nintendo got us with this again. I absolutely fell for it like the total sucker I am. I kid you not, I punched the air in time with the moment Duck Hunt Duo was unveiled, and then went absolutely radio rental when the real surprise quite literally landed. It’s Banjooooooo! I love the visual style they’ve given the bear and bird for Smash Ultimate, I love the moveset, the stage is perfect, the Jinjo final smash is perfect. Ahhhhhhhh, it feels good to finally get what you want, doesn’t it?

From that height, right on the neck. That dog’s probably dead.

The Verdict

Man, this was a tough thing to decide upon, and I think I’ve actually softened on it in the course of writing this. On the one hand, if you’re not a Smash player then you got one surprise here, and had to wait through over an hour of what was effectively just the same Direct as February’s, only with different trailers. It doesn’t denigrate the excitement for the games Nintendo re-showed off, as there is so much quality heading to Switch for the rest of the year, but there are those constant holes that Nintendo fans hope will be plugged each year, and each year we’re disappointed. At this stage, are we ever going to get another F-Zero game?

Nintendo has, to its credit, hit a ton of high notes on Switch already, but it would have been just glorious to see the next Mario Kart announced here, the unveiling of the long-rumored new Switch models, or something, anything, on Metroid Prime 4. Having said all this, it’s pretty hard to complain about a direct that had a new Luigi’s Mansion, Pokémon, Animal Crossing, Fire Emblem, and two new Zelda titles, but only one of those was a blockbuster surprise announcement we hadn’t heard before. It’s best to think of the whole Direct as a solid confirmation that the Switch is being heavily supported this year — both by Nintendo and third parties — and then dwell on those glorious last few minutes over and over.

Lads and lasses. Banjo. In Smash. Seriously.

7/10 would breathe in the wild again

Crotchety Englishman who spends hundreds of pounds on video game tattoos and Amiibo in equally wallet-crippling measure. Likes grammar a lot, but not as much as he likes ranting about the latest gaming news in his weekly column.

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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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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

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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