Kingdom Hearts III
After 14 years of never-ending spin-offs, the game that Kingdom Hearts fans have long been waiting for is finally just over the horizon.
First shown off (in something resembling a real form) all the way back at E3 2013, one of the great holy grails of games that will never, ever come out is finally proving us all wrong. Featuring a stellar new engine, a pile of new gameplay mechanics, and a jolly host of new Disney worlds (including Big Hero 6, Frozen, Toy Story, and Tangled), Kingdom Hearts III is shaping up to be the biggest, most ambitious game in this whole wacky series.
Also touted as the final act of the Kingdom Hearts central storyline, which has spanned no less than 11 titles, Kingdom Hearts III is set to solve, wrap-up, and answer every lingering plot point and question that fans have been puzzling over these last 16 years.
With just a few scant weeks to bridge to the release of the game on January 29th, can Kingdom Hearts III live up to the staggering hype that has long preceded it? That’s a question we will no doubt be able to answer very shortly. For more, read our hands-on preview from E3. (Mike Worby)
Luigi’s Mansion 3
On September 13, 2018, Nintendo launched an announcement trailer for Luigi’s Mansion 3. Many didn’t know when to expect another series sequel title on a console; frankly, it was unclear if we’d get a sequel title at all. However, after a five-year hiatus, the busting of ghosts appears to be in full-throttle!
Hot on the coattails of the controversial Luigi’s Mansion for Nintendo 3DS, the trilogy-capping Luigi’s Mansion 3 is being hotly-anticipated for its continued thrills and frights. As the trailer depicts, Luigi will still be cautiously entering buildings, rooms, and other locations with his trusty Poltergust device. Likely, he still won’t be quite as prepared for scares to ensue across his ghostbusting shenanigans.
While the trailer shows a bit of gameplay and action, we still are in the dark (or locked rooms) regarding the mechanics. However, we may be correct in assuming there will be a much-desired evolution. Luigi’s Mansion laid the groundwork for the series. The original IP, scoring a 78 on Metacritic, took Luigi’s keyed-up nature and forced him into situations where he had to overcome it to save his overshadowing brother. Although disappointing to some for its short length and lack of innovation, it was applauded for unique qualities and impressive graphics
The sequel, Luigi’s Mansion: Dark Moon, getting an 86 on Metacritic, took things to the handheld level. Back on the job, the ghostbusting gameplay was still just as tight, and even improved in some areas. Moreover, the game felt more structured, with straightforward missions and compelling puzzle elements.
Undoubtedly, Luigi’s Mansion 3, based on the prior upgrade to the series, will build on the already-solid foundation. Moreover, given it’s on console, I’d say it has even more room for growth. To all this, I must say: bring on the scares! (Brandon McIntyre)
Man of Medan
With Man of Medan, the Until Dawn team returns to tell another horror story in what is the first entry in Supermassive Games’ Dark Pictures Anthology. As a cinematic, narrative-driven horror title, Until Dawn took the gameplay and presentation seen in games like like Heavy Rain and twisted them to tell a story that pays tribute to mainstream slasher films while also fully embracing the silliness of the genre. Man of Medan looks to do the same, only instead of having a cabin-in-the-woods setting, it travels far out into the sea.
Man of Medan certainly looks like a worthy successor to Until Dawn — only this time, the story will be presented in an anthology format, with the first episode following a group of four young Americans and their skipper, as they stumble on board a ghost ship somewhere in the South Pacific after a raging storm overturns their boat. Now, the crew must band together and figure out a way to escape the haunted ship before they succumb to its terrifying history.
As massive fans of Until Dawn, we here at Goomba Stomp cannot wait for this game, and we have high hopes that it will be just as good as, if not better than, Until Dawn. (Ricky D)
Despite the industry move to largely online experiences, we are somewhat spoiled for great single-player shooters. The recent Doom and Wolfenstein games from Machine Games, the Far Cry and Shadow Warrior series, and indie titles like Dusk or Immortal Redneck have all kept the torch lit in the early days of gaming alight. One series that’s done extremely well is the Metro series, based on the post-apocalyptic novels by Dmitry Glukhovsky, and after an extended gap, we’re finally returning to the beautiful hell of the Moscow underground.
Or rather, partially returning, as the two explosive trailers reveal that much of this game is going to take place topside, and the name itself alludes to leaving Moscow in search of something better. Once again, players will be filling the radiated shoes of Artyom, a young but skilled ranger who seems adept at surviving everything the Metro can throw at him. There are monsters of both the beast and man variety, cobbled together weapons, and new to Exodus is the inclusion of large, non-linear levels that you’ll explore with your punk-as-hell Russian steam engine. Overall, it looks like what fans loved from the series is still going to be there, but this time it’s bringing a lot more to the table, and that’s more than enough to get excited about. (Andrew Vandersteen)
Special Mention: Metroid Prime 4
In what has been a harrowing wait for fans of Nintendo and Metroid alike, it’s been nearly a year and a half without any word about Metroid Prime 4. Now that Super Smash Bros. Ultimate has finally released and Sony is missing E3 for the first time, 2019 seems an opportune time for Nintendo to reveal more information about one of their most anticipated titles.
Given the divided legacy that Metroid Prime 3: Corruption and Metroid: Other M left with fans, it’s likely that Bandai Namco will return to a staple of the first two Prime games: isolation on a singular planet. Both Prime 3 and Other M — in their own unique, wildly varied ways — tried to diversify the series, expand its lore, and answer questions that fans had posed for years. Fully expect for Metroid Prime 4 to return the series to its roots and focus on guiding the player through spot-on game design and subtext rather than an expansive narrative or monotonic narration. In the spirit of The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild or Super Mario Odyssey, one might expect Prime 4 to embrace a large, more interconnected world that feels less geometrically artificial than the rooms in the first three Prime games did.
Whatever the design behind Prime 4, the game remains one of Nintendo’s most anticipated titles in an otherwise wide-open 2019. Powered by a veteran developer in Bandai Namco and carrying with it the hopes and wishes of Metroid fans everywhere, Prime 4 looms large on Nintendo’s timeline for 2019. (Iszak Barnette)
Ooblets is the mishmash of Animal Crossing, Harvest Moon, and Pokémon that you never knew you wanted. Developed by two-person team Glumberland (with the help of various freelancers for some character models, music, etc.) and published by Double-Fine, Ooblets’ greatest asset is its overly abundant cuteness and charm. The game is aesthetically similar to both Slime Rancher and Adventure Time — not necessarily in art style, but in overall tone and atmosphere. It’s evident even in its early stages that Glumberland has done a splendid job of creating a world that feels supremely inviting, silly and comforting.
Aside from just feeling all warm and fuzzy inside, it seems like there will be a ton to do in the world of Oob. Players start out in a small town, where they can decorate and furnish their own little homes, as well as fully customize their characters. Everyone gets a little farm to both grow ooblets and food for said ooblets, though the final number of attainable ooblets has yet to be revealed. Once you have a decent party, you’ll be able to go out, explore, and challenge other ooblets to dance battles! Many questions remain about the finer details of the game (i.e. can you have a home in every location? What’s the game’s end goal? Are there gyms or competitions like in Pokémon?), but the groundwork is already laid for what could be a magical experience later this year. (Brent Middleton)
Ori and the Will of the Wisps
Ori and the Blind Forest is a 2D platformer boasting ethereal visuals, a heart-tugging narrative, and challenging yet fluid gameplay that was met with critical acclaim when released in 2015. As a result, its sequel, Ori and the Will of the Wisps, is a highly anticipated title for those who support Blind Forest’s must-play status. Recent gameplay trailers posit Wisps as continuing the story of Ori and his friends, including the delightful return of warm hug-enthusiast Naru, and orphaned owlet, Ku. While Blind Forest wrapped up fairly neatly, in Wisps it seems as if the collective’s newfound peace may be threatened once again by a new antagonistic force/s – forces that Ori will have to overcome once again to protect his loved ones. To play Ori’s journey, it seems Wisps will be championing the same platforming mechanics as its predecessor, with Ori set to gain new powers and solve puzzles with the aid of his guardian spirit and Blind Forest veteran, Sein, as he works to liberate the torrid environments he traverses from their sources of corruption. Wisps also looks to implement and improve upon Blind Forest’s idiosyncratic aesthetics, with its primary visuals evidently encapsulating the same decadent, saturated hues that contributed to its marvelously magical atmosphere. Moreover, it doesn’t seem a stretch from the brief gameplay clips that a dramatic soundtrack to elevate emotional highs and lows will be present once again – collect your tissues and prepare to cry! While a specific release date hasn’t been revealed yet, developers Moon Studio’s has slated this title for 2019’s release cycle on Microsoft platforms – if Blind Forest’s phenomenal success was anything to go by, Wisps will not be one to miss.
The Outer Worlds
Fallout 76? Get out of here with that shit. Starfield? Never heard of it, mate. Bethesda looks to be unseated as the (decrepit) king of sci-fi RPGs in 2019 with Obsidian Entertainment’s The Outer Worlds. Obsidian’s latest foray into first-person RPG-shooters may well be the spiritual successor to Fallout: New Vegas many gamers have been craving for almost a decade now, and a response to Bethesda’s (mis-)handling of the Fallout IP from that series’ original creators.
The Outer Worlds seems to be a bleakly comical, planet-hopping adventure set at the outskirts of a colonized galaxy, with a focus on choice-driven storytelling to shape how your adventure pans out. The environments are dangerous and beautiful, emboldened by a radiant, alien colour palette, and the settlements have something of a space-western theme.
My hope for The Outer Worlds is for a direct response to Fallout 4 and its more recent online-multiplayer successor, with meaningful storyline choices, multiple ways to complete quests, as well as strong writing and game direction from cult-classic game developers Tim Cain and Leonard Boyarsky. If the game could also be polished, balanced, and relatively bug-free on release, all the better. See you soon, space cowboys. (George Cheese)
Anticipating Pikmin 4 is a dangerous proposal. Initially rumored as “very close to completion” by series creator Shigeru Miyamoto in 2015, he again confirmed development of the game in 2016 before two full years of radio silence. Now, fans of the series are left in a bewildering purgatory. Does Pikmin 4 actually exist? Could Miyamoto have been referring to the middling Hey! Pikmin 3DS platformer? Was it initially intended for the Wii U but postponed after Nintendo abandoned ship? Or perhaps it was a conventional sequel that Nintendo scrapped after deciding the series needed a Breath of the Wild-like reinvention? Only time will tell whether or not it even exists.
But if it does…what might we want? Well, if it stays true to the Pikmin formula, we’d like a much longer campaign than that of Pikmin 3. While Pikmin 3 was in some regards a near-perfect refinement of its predecessors, its five maps were markedly similar to each other, and its enemies were taken from past games then reused in multiple levels. A wider array of settings, with setting-specific gameplay mechanics and scenarios, would be a welcome addition to the series, and a broader array of enemy types could diversify the moment-to-moment experience. I’d also like to see greater elaboration on Pikmin 3‘s stellar mission and multiplayer modes, perhaps with seasonal DLC trickled out after its release.
And while we’re at it, some more of the Pikmin 2‘s outside-the-box level and boss design would be amazing. But the series could also make more fundamental changes, like becoming open-world-ish, thoroughly integrating a co-op mode, or combining both of those ideas into a sort of MMO. The sky’s the limit for these peewee do-gooders. C’mon Nintendo, this is a sequel worth throwing 100/100 of your employees at! (Kyle Rentschler)
There’s not much that’s more exciting than a new Pokémon generation. Fresh with new species and an unexplored region to journey through, every new Pokémon game has the ability to capture the child in everybody.
What creates extra excitement around the eighth generation is the potential for some incredible features that Pokémon Let’s Go Pikachu and Eevee both showcased — notably, wild pokémon freely roaming in the outside world without an annoying random encounter, allowing the player to pick and choose their battles. With this being the first new generation on the Nintendo Switch, we can expect a stark upgrade from its 3DS predecessors, particularly with upgraded animation, and perhaps even a larger world to explore.
Curiously, there might even be a great tactical change for competitive gamers. In X and Y we had Mega Evolution, and in Sun and Moon, Z-Moves became the iconic addition. How Pokémon could shake up their games further is still a well-kept secret, but we can expect some gimmick that will define generation eight. And much like the generations before, it will surely become quite the divisive mechanic amongst Pokémon fans. What can be safely predicted though, is that it will take even longer to complete our Pokédex! (James Baker)
The cult classic from Double Fine is back thanks to a crowdfunded effort through Fig, a platform that rewards backers with exclusive rewards and shares from a game’s sales. Tim Schafer and co. raised more than $3.8 million to bring the sequel to 2005’s Psychonauts to console and PC later this year.
After finally getting a sneak peek of the game in action at this year’s Game Awards with a new story trailer, Psychonauts 2 looks to be everything you’d want from a sequel. Raz is back, and as ever he’s going to have to use his acrobatic skills and psychic powers to navigate the dangerous Motherlobe. It’s all very cryptic and strange, and very much in the tone of the original. (Ricky D)
Released back in 2011, Rage was hailed by many as a supposed return to form for id Software. Unfortunately, beyond the pre-release anticipation and launch hype, the game failed to live up to both critical and consumer expectations. Although it featured a fairly well-realized and expansive post-apocalyptic setting à la Mad Max, the lackluster gameplay, tedious quest design, and vacuous narrative never matched the quality of the environments. The game was very much style over substance, and consequently, it was quickly forgotten. In the wake of such poor performance, it came as a surprise to almost everyone that a sequel was in the works and scheduled for a release this year. No one asked for it. No one wanted it. Yet that’s exactly what we’re getting.
Utilizing the same somewhat out-dated, dubstep/neo-rave aesthetics as Far Cry New Dawn the game seems to be priming itself to be an exercise in consciously “krazy” hijinx. Admittedly, it’s a refreshing change from the rather drab, arguably more realistic stylings of the original Rage, but there’s something about it that comes off as a heavily focus-grouped idea of what’s cool without the self-awareness to realize that it’s already passed.
That being said, the Rage 2 does look promising. Set 30 years after the events of the first game, the vast open world is packed full of zany settlements lorded over by wildly distinct gangs and features gameplay thrills measured in explosions per second, which should be more than enough to keep gamers occupied through the traditional summer launch lull. By no means is Rage 2 tipped to be my game of the year for 2019, but in spite of that it is definitely a game that is probably going to absorb a significant amount of my time during the early part of Q2 2019. ( Chris Underwood)
Resident Evil 2
Released in 1998 and receiving multiple re-releases, Resident Evil 2, like its predecessor, was another classic among fans and critics. It winningly expanded on survival horror elements that made the original game beloved, including paranoia-inducing camera angles and terrifying jump scares, as well as its innovative narrative structure. Sequels were given another standard.
2019’s Resident Evil 2, in speculation for a while before revealed officially at E3 2018, seeks to preserve the 1998 experience while updating it for the sake modern presentation and improved gameplay appeal. As producer Tsuyoshi Kanda said in an interview with Polygon:
“. . . we’re respecting it as much as we can. There’s a legacy of the series following the same key beats. Not radically, completely changing it. But when we bring it to this kind of level of photorealism using the RE Engine, you’d have to bring some groundedness to certain aspects.”
Kanda also addressed the gameplay directly. In exchange for the tank gameplay and Resident Evil 7‘s first-person gameplay, Capcom is opting for a third-person style akin to Resident Evil 4. Kanda says the gameplay is “up close and personal,” but that “it doesn’t lose that sense of claustrophobic horror that fans expect from the original game.”
This is all very exciting to hear for us RE fans. The original RE games still are some of the scariest titles to date, and while RE’s 4-6 did their best to provide some scares, they were mostly great for their tense and precise third-person gunplay. Resident Evil 7 managed to recapture the claustrophobia in a first-person view, and all the better for it. Now, we’re getting the best of all worlds. We’ll be gifted with nostalgia while also reveling in the gunplay that revolutionized the series, as well as the updated presentation. I feel nothing but optimism for this upcoming release!
For more on Resident Evil 2, we highly recommend checking out our hands-on preview from Gamescom. (Brandon McIntyre)
Sea of Solitude
If there’s one thing I’ll never get tired of, its narrative-driven games. While I enjoy visual novels and point-and-click adventures, sometimes you don’t need words to tell a good story. Sea of Solitude, one of the first games to open up last year’s E3, captures its audience on visuals alone.
Striking colors, a moody aesthetic, and buttery-smooth animations perfectly capture the game’s world. Like Sable, Sea of Solitude‘s hook is simple, yet effective: “When humans get too lonely,” says the game’s website, “they turn into monsters. That’s what happened to Kay. Now only monsters can change her back.”
Cryptic and enticing. Just the way I like it. (Kyle Rogacion)
Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice
Having created a new sub-genre with the Souls games, Hidetaka Miyazaki isn’t content with just rehashing his success. Now that the corporately-mandated Dark Souls sequels are out of the way, we’ve seen the famed director take the core of those games and turn it into something quite different. Bloodborne was the first departure, though its design still stayed relatively close. But, it’s the second departure, Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice, that aims to truly distinguish its gameplay from its predecessors.
Shedding the European mythology that the Souls series usually shrouds itself in, Sekiro instead takes place in a world of sword-striking Samurais, powerful Oni-like beasts, and other such perils of Japanese origin. The environments, from what we’ve seen in trailers and gameplay footage so far, are superbly vibrant, which is odd to see after years of the broodingly dark terror that FromSoftware has become known for.
While its very basic foundations will still be reminiscent to Souls veterans, Sekiro allegedly aims to strip away most everything else, with the single-player-only title focused more on high-stakes action, stealth, and grappling-hook traversal with an emphasis on verticality. Hell, you can jump — that alone changes everything!
Another interesting gameplay mechanic shown off has been what the clunky Shadows Die Twice name refers to: the ability to revive yourself upon death. This might make it sound easier, but as shown in gameplay footage, the caveats to this mechanic are complicated, and the game is designed in such a way to punish overuse. To boot, Sekiro is to be devoid of most RPG elements, both in terms of gameplay and story, lacking a means to directly level-up your character or even customize armor, and it contains a more linear story where you play as a specific, fixed protagonist — not a custom character.
While some might be nervous about these changes, I personally believe it will be wonderful to finally experience what could be considered the first post-Souls “Soulslike” game from Miyazaki and his team, and one that is something completely new and different. Maybe we’ll go back to something more ‘traditional’ one day, but for now, Sekiro’s spun-off venture is exactly what we need. (Maxwell N)
The Sinking City
When I first saw the promo gameplay trailer for The Sinking City it was like witnessing something clawing and slithering its way out of a fevered dream into delightfully terrible reality. I’m not the most avid of Lovecraft fans, but I respect and admire his work enough that I’ve always wanted to see it translated into a decent game. Most games that have tried in the past have always hit wide of the mark, and Cyanide’s recent take on the Cthulhu mythos, Call of Cthulhu, was thoroughly underwhelming in almost every respect.
Frogware’s interpretation seems to be delving deeper into the spirit of Lovecraft’s seductively horrific universe more than any other developer has previously dared. The Ukrainian company’s prior record with a series of generally well-received Sherlock Holmes games puts them in good standing to present an investigative narrative that blends humanity’s natural inclination to seek understanding with our propensity to dare ourselves to face our own fears.
As private investigator Charles Reed, players will traverse a gorgeously rendered version of a 1920s American metropolis that has succumbed to the devastating effects of a catastrophic flood. The supernatural origins of this event become all too clear, as the waters have remained, and with them all manner of bizarre creatures and paranormal happenings. Charles is given the daunting task of not only uncovering the forces that are driving the inhabitants of the city beyond the brink of insanity, but also with piecing together the shredded remnants of his own life and mind.
With its emphasis on interrogative quest design intended to encourage players to follow their own path across the ruined conurbation, tense combat that conveys the desperation of a lone mortal against the wrath of unspeakable gods, as well as environment design that demonstrates an encouragingly faithful adherence to Lovecraft’s gothic Victorian prose stylings, The Sinking City is a game I will be watching closely. That is, until the madness sets in. (Chris Underwood)
Town was one of the most unexpected announcements of 2018. Game Freak has been tethered to the Pokémon franchise for decades, and though they’ve had small side projects here and there, this seems to be their first major deviation. It might still be a fanciful RPG involving coming-of-age kids, but that’s about where the similarities between Town and Pokémon stop.
So far, all we know story-wise is that the game’s namesake enjoyed peace for many years while under the protection of a nearby castle. Now that monsters have appeared, players need to defend the village and discover why this is suddenly happening. Game Freak have never been known for great writing (perhaps aside from Gen 5), but seeing as the entire narrative takes place in one location, I’m hopeful that they’ll double down on story and character building with Town.
Such a small area to pour resources into also makes me optimistic for the game’s production values. I’d be shocked if we weren’t able to gradually build the village up over time with various shops and landmarks, or if seasons didn’t change every so often. The soft, colorful palette suits Town‘s anime-inspired art style quite well, and though Game Freak also isn’t known for their technical prowess, I’m confident that it will look all kinds of charming when it ships.
This is to say nothing of Town‘s combat mechanics (which seem to take from Octopath Traveler‘s Break system), structure, or how villagers will pitch in to help you fight off monsters. Here’s hoping they fill in these and other holes in an upcoming Direct! (Brent Middleton)
Untitled Goose Game
With every passing year, games seem to become more complex and serious. I sometimes wonder if game developers even focus on the ‘fun’ aspect of games anymore. Additionally, a touch of humor can transform a game from good to great, keeping the player hooked for entirely different reasons. Untitled Goose Game goes back to a time where games didn’t take themselves too seriously, with an open sandbox that someone can unwind to, rather than an intense affair of toil and trouble.
Perhaps even more so, Untitled Goose Game is the game people didn’t even realize they wanted. Geese are known for their short temperament, and with that in mind, indie developer House House has produced a game that uses those characteristics and given them devilish humor. The way in which the goose interacts with the world and the people who live in it is set to be hilarious fun. With a focus on teasing and creating misery for the local villagers, Untitled Goose Game could be the game that helps this old man live his real-life fantasy of winding up the village — without those real-life consequences. (James Baker)
Yoshi’s Crafted World
He’s adorable, he’s hungry, and he comes in a variety of different colors. No, I’m not talking about Kirby — I’m referring to Mario’s favorite dinosaur pal, Yoshi. Yoshi’s Crafted World is coming to the Switch this year, and it seems to be taking a lot of inspiration from Yoshi’s Wooly World in terms of aesthetics. Everything in the game seems like it’s made out of some sort of arts and crafts material, looking quite beautiful in motion, and really suiting Yoshi’s personality.
The gameplay itself adds a new mechanic to the typical egg-throwing romp that Nintendo fans have come to know and love. Yoshi will be able to run on multiple planes in the foreground and background of each stage, creating a whole host of new possibilities for level design. You can even throw eggs onto another plane that the dino isn’t currently on himself.
Yoshi’s Crafted World looks like it’s going to be another adorable adventure filled with unique ideas and constant charm. Co-op play is also confirmed for this title, which is always welcome, and it’s safe to assume that it will certainly not be focusing on a challenge. However, Yoshi’s Wooly World did have some decently difficult bonus stages, so maybe those will return here. Hopefully, Nintendo learned from its mistakes with Kirby Star Allies, and will focus on making Yoshi’s Crafted World a fully featured game from the start instead of fixing it with updates later. (Zack Rezac)
The world has been devoid of the oddly care-free, experimentally entertaining brain bursts brought to life by visionary game director Keita Takahashi for far too long. His previous creations — like Noby Noby Boy and, more famously, Katamari Damacy as well as We Love Katamari — have lodged themselves hard into the creative consciousness of video games by this point in time and space.
Officially revealed back in 2014, Wattam seems like yet another entry in Takahashi’s catalog of positive destruction. It’s hard to discern exactly what is going around in this particular virtual playground that Wattam takes place in outside of the fact that we (at least initially) assume the role of a mustached cube man known as “The Mayor” on our journey to “create joyful explosions” (as per the publisher’s description). We also will learn about the citizens in the world of Wattam (including 3D poop dudes), which seems to serve as a primary puzzle-solving mechanic. Maybe?
One thing is for sure: you’re better off expecting a fun, silly time while leaving any preconceived notions of a ‘video game’ behind. Takahashi’s worlds don’t exactly share the stage with conventional gaming, and are better off for that. Wattam, it seems, is set to fill out that niche just as well as its predecessors. And that’s an exciting prospect. (Maxwell N)
PAX South 2020 Hands-On: ‘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 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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
PAX South 2020 Hands-On: ‘Windjammers 2,’ ‘KUNAI,’ and ‘Young Souls’
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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 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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