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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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PAX South 2020 Hands-On: ‘Ghostrunner,’ ‘Everspace 2,’ and ‘Wrath: Aeon of Ruin’

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‘Ghostrunner,’ ‘Everspace 2,’ and ‘Wrath: Aeon of Ruin’

We’ve already covered a wide variety of the games on display at PAX South this year, from retro revivals to unorthodox romances to everything in between – and we’re not done yet! In this next roundup article, we cover three more ambitious, action-packed games: Ghostrunner, Everspace 2, and Wrath: Aeon of Ruin.

Ghostrunner

Ghostrunner

Ghostrunner was one of the most in-demand games at PAX, and after playing it, it’s easy to see why. This first-person action slasher, developed by One More Level and produced by 3D Realms, lets players dash through the air, run across walls, and slash through enemies at blistering speed all while exploring a dystopian cyberpunk world. It’s gorgeous, lightning fast, and feels amazing to play.

Ghostrunner begins in a broken future, where the remnants of humanity have hidden away in a single condensed tower. Naturally enough, you’re put in the role of the one rebel who dares to rise up against the forces oppressing humanity. As you begin your uprising, you’ll also encounter a grand mystery – why is humanity the way it is now? Just what happened to the rest of the world? And what’s that voice you hear in your head?

Ghostrunner

My demo didn’t offer much illumination to these mysteries, but the 3D Realms team assured me that the story plays a significant role in the main campaign. What my demo did offer, however, was a look into the fast-paced, brutal gameplay that defines the game. Combat is so dynamic in Ghostrunner. Your arsenal of moves is massive and varied – of course you can run, jump, and slash with your katana, but you can also run along walls, dash over chasms, slow down time to dodge bullets, and more.

When all the moving pieces flow together, Ghostrunner achieves a visceral, almost hypnotic flow of battle. There are a few obstacles to this feeling. The controls took a bit of getting used to on my end, but that would be because, console peasant that I am, I’m not used to playing 3D games on a keyboard instead of a controller. Also, this may be an action game, but at many times it feels more like a puzzle game. With bloodthirsty enemies scattered around each environment, you’ll often need to take a step back and methodically evaluate which abilities to use in each situation. This can take some trial and error – it might have taken me more than a few tries to clear out the final wave of enemies. But when the solution works out, it’s a beautifully exhilarating feeling, and that’s what sets Ghostrunner apart.

Wrath: Aeon of Ruin

PAX featured plenty of retro-styled games, but not many quite like Wrath: Aeon of Ruin. This retro-style FPS is a throwback to the simpler, faster days of shooters, built entirely in the same engine as the original Quake. It was even based off the work of Quake community modders. If you’ve played any classic FPS like the original DOOM or Wolfenstein, then you should have a good idea of how Wrath plays: it’s brutal, lightning fast, and action packed.

My demo got straight to the point. After teleporting me to a distant hellscape, I was faced with a horde of demons, ranging from simple skeletons to more aggressive ogre-like enemies and flying laser monsters. Thankfully, I was also given an assortment of weapons to take these creatures down with, including a simple handgun, a powerful blade arm, and my personal favorite, a shotgun. Each one of these felt good to control, and like any good old-fashioned shooter, they gave me a great feeling of power.

PAX South

Like any good, brutal FPS in the vein of Quake, Wrath features an insane amount of mobility. Movement is extremely fast and fluid, allowing you to zip across and above stages with reckless abandon. This extra speed will be necessary, especially considering that enemies can slaughter on with reckless, overwhelming abandon.

Of course, being built in the original Quake engine, Wrath is a delightfully retro treat to behold. It features all the signature hard polygonal edges of PC shooters from that bygone era, but with the added smoothness and fluidity of modern hardware. The game feels great to play and is a unique treat to behold. Wrath is currently available on Steam Early Access, and there’s plenty of new content that can be expected throughout the year, including new levels, enemies, and even a full online multiplayer mode. Stuffed with violent retro action, Wrath: Aeon of Ruin is absolutely worth watching out for.

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Everspace 2

Space is the final frontier, offering limitless exploration This’s the exact feeling that Everspace 2 captures. This sandbox open world space shooter dumps you in outer space and leaves you to figure out the rest, allowing you to fight, scavenge, and explore as you will, all with an incredible amount of freedom.

It’s a remarkably beautiful game too, boasting of extremely detailed 3D graphics that wouldn’t look out of place in a full 3D AAA experience. It’s extremely ambitious, offering a wealth of customization options through parts that can be scavenged from fallen space craft or space debris. There’s alien life to discover and a wealth of locations to explore, with the full game apparently featuring more than 80 unique environments.

PAX South

These environments will always be interesting to explore thanks to a mix between handcrafted worlds and randomization. The original Everspace was a pure roguelike, and as developer Rockfish Games told me, this constantly changing design has often been fundamental to previous great space shooters. Although Rockfish opted for an intentionally designed open world for the sequel, they want to maintain some of those same roguelike elements. That’s why whenever you venture through the many galaxies of Everspace 2, the galaxies and planets will be the same, but the items you find or enemies you encounter within them may change each time.

It took me some time to get used to Everspace. It immediately offers a great amount of freedom, with the demo simply dumping me in space and only requiring that I take down some enemy units and pick up some loot. Yet once I got the hang of the controls and the environment, it became extremely fluid and natural to zip through space, upgrade different components, and experience all the free-flowing action that it has to offer. Space is the ultimate freedom, and Everspace 2 is set to represent that.

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PAX South 2020 Hands-On: ‘Windjammers 2,’ ‘KUNAI,’ and ‘Young Souls’

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PAX South

PAX South 2020 attracted tons of exciting publishers to San Antonio, and even with such a crowded lineup, the DotEmu and Arcade Crew booth easily stood out as some of the show’s very best exhibitors. Streets of Rage 4 might have been their standout demo, but the French boutique publisher and developers brought a fantastic selection of games to the show, including their signature retro revivals and some promising original indie games of their own.

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Windjammers 2

Sequel to the much-beloved arcade classic, Windjammers 2 takes all the hectic frisbee-throwing action of the original and updates it for the modern generation. For those unfamiliar with the art of windjamming, it’s effectively pong, but instead of balls, you toss discs back and forth across the court. It pits two players against each other on opposite sides of the court, tasking you with mercilessly hurling your disc back and forth until it gets into your opponent’s goal.

You can just throw the disc directly at your opponent, but Windjammers 2 gives you many more options besides that. To really excel at the game, you’ll have to make use of the most extravagant moves you can, dashing across the court, leaping into the air, tossing the disc above you before slamming it down into your opponent, to list only a few of the uber-athletic abilities at your disposal. The game can move extremely quickly when both players take advantage of these capabilities, yet things never feel overwhelming. I always felt in control of the action, even when my quickest reflexes were put to the test. It’s fast-paced disc throwing insanity, and I couldn’t get enough of it.

Animated GIF

Just like the rest of DotEmu’s catalogue, Windjammers 2 combines classic gameplay with gorgeous modern aesthetics. It has the same hand-drawn style that makes other DotEmu titles stand out, like Wonderboy: The Dragon’s Trap. The original Windjammers was a time capsule of garish 90s style, and that design is retained for the new release, with characters looking even more colorful and absurd than ever thanks to the revitalized art and animations. Hectic to play and beautiful to behold, Windjammers 2 is already set to be a multiplayer hit.

PAX South

Young Souls

Streets of Rage 4 was certainly the premier beat ‘em up on display at DotEmu’s booth, but it wasn’t the only one. Alongside this retro revival was an all-new take on the genre: Young Souls, an extremely stylish action game that blends fast-paced fighting with deep RPG customization and a charming, emotional narrative.

Beat ‘em ups might not be known for deep storylines, but Young Souls aspires to something more. Along with its satisfying combat mechanics and plentiful flexibility for character builds, it also boasts of having “a profound story with unforgettable characters.” While my demo didn’t give me much of a look at this deep narrative, it’s reasonable to assume that the story will at least be quality, since it’s penned by none other than the author of the Walking Dead games, Matthew Ritter.

Animated GIF

However, I did get a substantial feel for combat. Young Souls features more than 70 monster-filled dungeons, and I got to venture into two of them in my demo. The action feels weighty and solid when going up against enemies, yet precise at the same time. Like any classic beat ‘em up, there’s a mixture of light and heavy attacks, along with blocks and powerful special moves, along with items and spells to exploit during combat as well. In between battles, you’re able to deck your character out in equipment and items, allowing for an element of roleplaying depth that isn’t typically associated with action games like this. In my short time with the game, it was fun to experiment with different character builds, which could determine the speed and abilities of my fighter, promising combat for the final game.

I played the demo both solo and co-op; in single-player, you’re able to switch between the two twins at will, while two players can each take control of a sibling. In both playstyles, the gameplay was just as visceral and satisfying as one would expect from a classic-style beat ‘em up like this, but the addition of a deep story and RPG mechanics put a unique spin on this entry. That’s not to mention that, like every other game at the DotEmu and Arcade Crew booth, it’s visually beautiful, featuring stylish 2D characters in 3D environments that are all rendered in gentle, washed-out colors. Young Souls might not have a release date or even any confirmed platforms as of now, but it’s absolutely worth keeping an eye on in the meantime.

KUNAI

KUNAI takes the typical metroidvania formula and boosts it to hyperspeed. It has all the hidden secrets and massively interconnected world exploration that you’d expect from the genre, and it gives you the ability to speed through that faster and more dynamically than ever. Its main gimmick is right in the name – by giving you two kunai hookshots, you’re able to traverse up and down your environments with speed and freedom, making for a uniquely vertical method to explore.

KUNAI starts out with the end of the world. In a dystopian future where technology has taken over, you control Tabby, a sentient and heroic tablet that’s dead set on liberating the planet. This serious plot is filled with plenty of personality, however, from the silly faces that Tabby makes in action to the charming dialogue and quirky character designs. This personality is rendered in appealing detail thanks to the game’s simple yet effective pixel art.

PAX South

It’s in the gameplay where KUNAI truly shines. With the eponymous kunai, you’re able to latch onto vertical surfaces. Combine this with the additional abilities to dash, bounce off enemies, or wall jump, and it provides for a uniquely dynamic method of exploring the world. Using the kunai feels easy and intuitive, fast enough to gain speed but never too floaty. It’s a balanced approach to speed and movement that never gets out of control, resulting in what it is perhaps the best-feeling movement of any metroidvania I’ve played recently. My demo was brief, and ended very soon after first getting the kunai, but the gameplay felt so smooth and natural that I can’t wait to experience more of it. Thankfully, it’s not long to wait, since KUNAI hits Switch and PC on February 6.

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PAX South Hands-On: ‘Streets of Rage 4’ Balances Legacy and Innovation

Streets of Rage 4 embodies the original series’ elegant, action-packed design and revives it for a new generation.

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Streets of Rage 4

From the moment I began my demo with Streets of Rage 4 at PAX South, it felt like coming home. It might have been more than two decades since the first three games in the Streets of Rage series perfected the beat ‘em up formula on the Sega Genesis, but courtesy of developers Lizardcube, DotEmu, and Guard Crush, this legendary series is back and in good hands. This brand new entry aims to recapture all the style and balance of the originals, while introducing innovations of its own. If my demo is any indication, the game is set to achieve that.

Streets of Rage 4 uses the same elegant level design that set the original trilogy apart back on the Genesis. The gameplay is simple: keep walking to the right, taking out every enemy in front of you with all the jabs, kicks, jumps, and special moves at your disposal. If anything, the controls feel better than ever before, with an added level of precision and fluidity that simply wasn’t possible on older hardware.

Streets of Rage 4

That’s not to mention the new move sets. Beat ’em ups might not be the most complex genre around, but Streets of Rage 4 adds the perfect level of depth to the combat. It has the same simple jabs and kicks found in the original games, but spiced up with the potential for new combos and even a handful of extravagant new special moves. With new and old fighting mechanics, this new entry features plenty of room to experiment with combat but never loses the simple, arcade-like charm of the originals.

Streets of Rage 4 revives the series’ rage-filled and action-packed style for the twenty-first century

The demo included series staple characters like Axel and Blaze, yet I opted to play as an all-new character: Cherry Hunter, a guitar-wielding fighter whose move set felt very distinct from classic characters. Her movement is speedy, certainly faster than Axel but slower than Blaze, and her guitar provided for some unique melee moves. Like the new mechanics, her addition to the character roster helps shake up the Streets of Rage formula just enough, while maintaining the core beat ’em up simplicity that made the series special in the first place.

Streets of Rage 4

Streets of Rage 4 might innovate in a few areas, but one thing that’s clearly remained true to form is the difficulty. It boasts of the same old school difficulty that characterized the original games. The classic and brand new enemies are just as ruthless as ever, mercilessly crowding in around you and can easily overwhelm you if you’re not careful. However, just like the originals, the fighting feels so satisfying that it’s easy to keep coming back for more action.

Amid all these changes and additions, perhaps the most obvious (and controversial) change is the visual style. While the original series used detailed pixel art, Streets of Rage 4 instead boasts of an extremely detailed handcrafted art style, in which every frame of character animation is painstakingly drawn by hand and environments are colorful and painterly. Thousands of frames of animation go into each character, and the effort certainly shows, making every punch, kick, and other acts of violence a breathtaking sight to behold.

Streets of Rage 4 reimagines this classic series for a new generation, reintroducing the best of the beat ’em up genre for players of all backgrounds and experiences.

Some fans have complained that the game loses the series’ spirit without pixel art, but DotEmu marketing director Arnaud De Sousa insisted to me that this simply isn’t the case. Pixel art wasn’t an artistic choice back then – it was a matter of necessity. If the developers could have designed the game to look exactly as they wanted, regardless of technical limitations, then it likely would have looked just like the luscious hand-drawn visuals of the current Streets of Rage 4.

That’s not to mention that, as De Sousa emphasized, the Streets of Rage games are defined by looking different from one another. The third game looks different from the second, which looked different from the first – and now this new entry has twenty years of change to catch up on. Thus, it only makes sense for this new entry to adopt a radically new graphical style after all this time.

Streets of Rage 4

Streets of Rage 4 reimagines this classic series for a new generation, reintroducing the best of the beat ’em up genre for players of all backgrounds and experiences. The difference between De Sousa and myself is perfect evidence of that. He grew up playing the games in the 90s, whereas I wasn’t even born when the original trilogy became such a phenomenon and only played them years later in subsequent re-releases. Yet here we were, standing in the middle of a crowded convention and gushing about decades-old games. We might have had extremely different experiences with the series, but that didn’t stop us from appreciating the joys of stylish beat ’em up action.

“A good game is a good game,” De Sousa told me, “no matter how old.” That’s the attitude that Streets of Rage 4 exemplifies. It revives the series’ rage-filled and action-packed design for the twenty-first century. And with a release on all modern platforms, more players than ever will be able to rediscover the simple pleasure of wielding your bare knuckles against thugs of all types. Between the new art style and the solid gameplay, Streets of Rage 4 is looking like an incredibly welcome return for this iconic franchise.

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