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Tales from Telltale: A Telltale Games Retrospective

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The shutting down of Telltale Games was heartbreaking to watch unfold, and not just because so many incredibly talented people were out of a job, but because many of us here at Goomba Stomp have spent a fair amount of time playing many of the studio’s games over the past decade or so.

With the recent news that the company is being revived, we’ve decided to re-run this article which looks back at a few of the games that we have fond memories playing. Let us know which Telltale game is your favourite and feel free to share any other thoughts, memories and general feedback in the comments below.

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Batman Telltale

Batman: The Telltale Series

One of the biggest properties that Telltale ever had the good fortune of procuring also led to one of their best franchises. What set Batman: The Telltale Series apart from other Telltale games was its focus on tactical takedowns of enemies, and a QTE system that really fit with the Caped Crusader and his bag of tricks.

However, what really made Batman: The Telltale Series stand out was how it revamped the Batman mythos for its own purposes. Drawing inspiration from a wide range of sources (including Batman: The Animated SeriesBatman v SupermanThe Dark Knight and The Long Halloween) Telltale’s take on the World’s Greatest Detective still managed to have its own unique voice.

Putting a heavier focus on Bruce Wayne allowed the game to have a different kind of storytelling, and the ways which the game re-wrote the history of the Dark Knight were truly shocking. One need only look at how classic characters like Thomas Wayne and Vicki Vale were dynamically retooled for this story to see the kind of brass balls on the writers of Telltale’s Batman series.

Introducing a compelling new villain, while offering vastly different takes on Batman’s classic rogue’s gallery, Batman: The Telltale Series is a wonderfully fresh take on a character who has been around for eight decades, and it belongs well within the company of great Batman stories. (Mike Worby)

Enemy Within

Batman: The Enemy Within

If Batman: The Telltale Series was Telltale’s attempt at putting their own unique spin on Bob Kane and Bill Finger’s Caped Crusader, then Batman: The Enemy Within was where they doubled down on their vision of Gotham City’s unique cast of characters.

The Enemy Within isn’t just one of Telltale’s best games, it’s also one of the best Batman stories in years. Focusing on Bruce Wayne’s attempts at infiltrating an international cabal of villains known as The Pact. This boldly dynamic tale introduces plenty of new blood into Telltale’s Batman universe, including fresh takes on Harley Quinn, the Riddler, Amanda Wallace, and most importantly: The Joker.

A character who has truly been done to death over the last decade, managing a fresh approach to the Joker seems like something of an impossibility in 2018. Yet Telltale truly pulled off a masterful new Joker in The Enemy Within by allowing you to shape the madman as he soul-searched for his purpose in the world. Treating him like the unstable creature he is would lead to something like the classic Joker we’ve all come to know and loathe but for players that tried to steer him away from his villainous path, a daring new version of the Joker was waiting to be unveiled.

Featuring 2 completely different scenarios for the final episode based entirely on how you handled the Joker, The Enemy Within is a compelling and shocking take on the Batman mythology, and easily one of the best games Telltale ever crafted. One of the greatest tragedies of the studio’s closure is that we won’t get to see any more games set in their brilliant vision of Gotham City.  (Mike Worby)

TalesFromTheBorderlands

Tales From The Borderlands

It’s hard to imagine anybody could have had high hopes for Tales From The Borderlands prior to release. A mash-up of Telltale’s patented narrative focused adventures and co-operative, loot-grind first-person shooter series Borderlands? I was a big fan of the work Telltale had done with their previous titles since The Walking Dead, but this one seemed destined to disappoint from the moment it was announced. What’s so surprising about Tales From The Borderlands is not that it didn’t bomb, but that it just might be some of Telltale’s finest work. The game throws together a rag-tag band of anti-heroes and ne’er-do-wells who – largely for reasons pertaining to fortune, glory, or survival – must unite to take on common foes, and maybe, just maybe, learn some valuable life lessons along the way. The cast is quickly likable and the writing is sharp with the sort of back and forth witty banter you’d expect from a movie like Guardians of the Galaxy. The story begins in medias res, with two of our heroes being held captive by a masked kidnapper, and each offers input into how they wound up in the pickle they’re in. This narrative style allows Telltale an opportunity to subvert their trademark tough, morally ambiguous decision-making style, and instead play the choices for laughs as the two leads remember the events of their tale very differently, each blaming the other for what went wrong. What starts as a charming but silly and disposable yarn transforms throughout the series into a genuinely interesting tale with a strong emotional core as the cast begin to trust one another and reveal hidden depths to their characters. The apex is probably episode four, which delights from start to finish, from an outrageous opening title sequence to a heroic sacrifice and ultimately the greatest QTE in Telltale history – it hits all the right notes, and proves that Telltale couldn’t just make you cry but could have you laughing out loud as well. (John Cal McCormick)

Walking Dead Season Two

The Walking Dead: Season 2

The Walking Dead: Season 2 was about Clementine finding her way on her own. The player questions who Clementine is while growing up with her hero gone and her future changing rapidly every day. She’s alone now, and even though Lee taught her to care for others, the second season dares to teach Clem, and the player, that the only person to save is yourself.

Clementine, with her new set of survivors, has to figure this out on her own, and she and the player’s hand is forced to make some harrowing and challenging decisions. Telltale was most successful in getting players to challenge their beliefs, morals, or the choices they ultimately make. The brilliant mechanic of only having an allotted time to make that choice gives the player no thought process, only gut reactions.

Telltale creates in Walking Dead an inescapable and hardening truth that conventional morals have no room within a zombie apocalypse. While Season 1 provided relatively clear-cut decisions, Season 2 challenged that by reminding the player over and over again that you cannot save anyone besides yourself. That’s a lot for a little girl growing up in an extremely unsafe world. It’s clear that Clem didn’t know, or neither did the player, of who she really is outside of Lee.

The core of this particular game is patience, peacefulness, and conversation. Even though the hellhole has only deepened, Season 2 is about finding those moments of quiet and how to talk to each other, rather than just life or death decisions.  (Katrina Lind)

Michonne

The Walking Dead: Michonne 

Telltale means a lot to me. Not just because it’s games are good, but because it’s games have had such a big role in shaping my life over the last few years. The first Telltale game I played was The Walking Dead: Season 1. I was in high school at the time, had just recently begun listening to Podcast Beyond and was in the middle of my second to last year of exams.

It was the point in my life where I moved beyond just playing games and actually became invested in the greater industry around them. I hadn’t heard of Telltale’s The Walking Dead until Greg Miller spoke about it on Beyond. It wasn’t available on consoles in New Zealand at the time, so I started playing it on my iPad. I had no idea how important that game would be to me. It was emotional, riveting and the first game to ever make me cry. From that day forward I’ve regarded it as one of my favourite games of all time, viewed the opinions of Greg Miller crucial to finding new games and thought for the first time that games might be able to tell better stories than movies.

I loved their follow up projects like The Wolf Among Us and Tales From the Borderlands, reviewed Batman: Season 1 and Guardians of the Galaxy during my time as a game reviewer and wrote countless news articles in the lead up to A New Frontier. However, there is one Telltale game very close to me, that I’ve never spoken about.

For the last few years, I’ve struggled with mental illness. When I was first diagnosed I found it hard to understand my condition and find appropriate representations of it in media. I wanted to feel I was understood, that I wasn’t alone in this. Then I found The Walking Dead: Michonne. It’s a spin-off title, three episodes long and released between seasons 2 and 3 of Telltale’s ongoing series.

Most push Michonne aside for not progressing The Walking Dead formula further, viewing it as a bland derivative of the past games. I saw another character who’s inner struggles were eating them alive. I saw a story of someone who appeared strong in front of others, but weak and vulnerable when alone. It was a powerful message to me at the time. Even the strongest of us can be tortured by invisible demons. The Walking Dead: Season 1 meant a lot to many people. The Walking Dead: Michonne meant a tremendous amount to me despite being panned by others. Not every game needs to connect with everyone, one person is enough. So it’s saddening to know that both I and others won’t continue having experiences like this in the future. (Chris Bowring) 

The Walking Dead Final Season

The Walking Dead: The Final Season

As I have been very fervently pointing out over the last month The Walking Dead: The Final Season is already among Telltale’s finest work, even as a half finished game. The bummer of it all is that it might remain that way.

As most reviews have pointed out, the new engine that runs The Final Season is just the breath of fresh air that Telltale needed to reinvigorate their formula. Things like totally free control of the camera with the right analog stick and a more strategic combat system are the precise things that Telltale needed to bring their gameplay back up to snuff with their already solid storytelling.

With these improvements The Walking Dead: The Final Season is poised to be a contender with the very best of Telltale’s games. It’s really too bad that the timing couldn’t be worse for them. Imagining a Wolf Among Us sequel or a Stranger Things game running on this engine is enough to really get a fan excited.

Will Telltale find a partner to help them finish the game or will Clementine’s journey go unfinished this close to its conclusion? I guess we’ll just have and see, won’t we? (Mike Worby)

Wolf Among Us

The Wolf Among Us

After a decade perfecting a formula that mimicked television and turned video games into a series of episodes, Telltale followed up their smash hit The Walking Dead with an episodic prequel of another famous graphic novel – Bill Willingham’s comic series Fables. Taking place in the fictional New York City in 1986 (nearly 20 years before the events of the comic), Telltale’s neo-noir crime drama centers on Bigby Wolf, the sheriff of Fabletown who sets out to hopefully solve a murder mystery before the killer strikes again.

Of the two dozen or so games Telltale created since the studio was founded on October 4, 2004, The Wolf Among Us may just be the very best – a smart, stylized whodunit that is both sobering and thrilling, and sometimes, magical.

There’s a lot to love about The Wolf Among Us, from the gorgeous neon, cel-shaded graphics that blend splashes of bright color with the muddy palette of the classic film noir to the large cast of eccentric mythical characters – but what stood out the most for me is how The Wolf Among Us took inspiration from The Blue Dahlia, one of the most overlooked and under-rated film noirs written by the great Raymond Chandler. Like The Blue Dahlia, The Wolf Among Us interweaves a tangled plot centered on the death of a woman, a wrongly accused man, and a range of possible suspects while addressing issues of neighborhood class struggles. In other words, The Wolf Among Us is less a story of what these legends and folklore figures would do in the real world and more a dark detective story that puts us in the head of the Big Bad Wolf and forces us to makes decisions that will ultimately have a great impact on the lives of everyone he meets along the way.

In keeping with the structure of a compelling whodunnit, each episode unfolds at a steady pace while scattering clues, yet never giving too much away. It’s basically a Raymond Chandler nursery rhyme that paves out a fascinating detective story and an even more fascinating gumshoe who spends his time meticulously pawing through evidence, trying to decipher how it all relates to the crime at large. The setup works mainly because Bigby is such an intriguing character – and the more he investigates, the tougher his choices (and yours) become as he explores the seedy dark underbelly of his hometown. And when things get really bad, it takes a toll on him mentally and physically, as he transforms into an actual wolf.

The season’s final episode, “Cry Wolf” (which the Internet was falling over itself trying to understand) makes the entire journey well worth your time as it culminates in a swirl of revelations that left many people baffled and confused. If The Walking Dead was Telltale’s tear-jerker, The Wolf Among Us is the studio’s head-scratcher, a rare game that left me with a lot to think about, long after the credits rolled. (Ricky D)

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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

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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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garden story

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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