Top 10 Games is a new, semi-regular series that hopes to offer a bit of insight into the twisted minds of Goomba Stomp’s writers, editors, and podcasters by allowing them to tell you about their all time favorite games, and why they love them to such an unhealthy degree.
I’ve been writing for Goomba Stomp since around the time the site launched 2 years ago. I’ve done plenty of reviews, editorial articles, and even have my own column where I talk about news and opinions related to import games and gaming in other cultures. It was really difficult coming up with a list of 10 games that I thought were “the best.” Instead, I wrote up about some of my favorite games, and ones that have influenced me as a writer and shaped who I am today.
I don’t really have that much to say about Frogger. It’s not really a game I think too hard about to be honest, but it is one that’s near and dear to me. My dad used to collect arcade and pinball machines before he met my mother. He has some weird ones, but I mostly remember Frogger since it was the one he kept the longest. Before I even knew what a game console was I was playing Frogger and trying to get my pixelated green friend across streets of darting traffic and past the mouths of hungry gators.
I’m sure if I took more time to sit down and replay the game I’d have more to talk about, but Frogger is just something I can attach good memories too. It was hot summer nights in the garage, and chilly fall evenings after school. It was thinking I accidentally broke the machine when I was four, when really it was just a decade old arcade machine with a dead monitor. It’s a little weird thinking back to be honest, because I can see more parallels between me and my father now. He started getting into pinball and arcades after college, while I’ve started importing and repairing Japanese arcade motherboards.
9) Fatal Frame
The horror genre is one of my favorites. It’s a category that’s defined by feeling and getting a gut reaction out of the player rather than something like a platformer or shooter, which are based solely around their gameplay. It’s hard to say if horror has ever had a shining period, where developers really captured what it means to “scare” your audience, because it’s something that’s constantly changing from generation to generation.
The PlayStation 2-era survival horror explosion is probably one of my favorite periods in game development history. This was around the time where everyone was looking at Resident Evil and saying “I want that.” There were a lot of clones and bad impersonators, but underneath it are some often ignored games with lots of good ideas. Fatal Frame might not be on the same level of obscurity as Haunting Ground or Kuon, but it’s what I consider to be one of the more interesting and innovate horror games to come from the early and mid-2000’s.
The idea of using a camera to exorcise spirits sounds ridiculous, but it has some actual real-world parallels with spirit photography from the 1800s. It also works well as a mechanic since the only way to damage ghosts is to let them get in frame, and you do even more if you focus on them, forcing you to get close to them and risk getting hit. Fatal Frame is pretty unforgiving, you really don’t have that many healing items or ammo, making even rationing difficult. I remember having to restart this game twice when I first tried playing it, but the rush of overcoming everything, the thrill of playing a game that literally made me “face my fear,” felt so rewarding to overcome.
Fatal Frame was one of the first horror games that truly left me feeling scared and tense. It was the first horror game I had played that forced me into first-person. It was the first horror game I played that didn’t put me in a familiar small Mid-Western town. And it was the first game that forced me to get uncomfortably close to the things trying to kill me. Fatal Frame might not be the most polished game in the franchise, but it’s the one I remember the most fondly, and it’s the one I keep going back to when I want something spooky to play.
I can’t think of a single game quite like the .hack// quartet. Cyber Connect’s first multimedia project in the .hack// franchise is without a doubt their best one. The quartet is a supplement to the anime .hack//Sign, which aired around the same time as the games were coming out. Both projects have very somber themes. They explore how people use the internet to hide their own lives and troubles, as well as all the problems a network-centric world can create. It’s an interesting dystopian future story since it doesn’t follow a lot of the conventions typically associated with that genre. Everything in the world of .hack// looks fine on the outside, but there are people suffering and trying to find meaning underneath the barriers and masks that the game gives them.
The .hack// quartet does a good job of capturing the feeling of playing an online game with others, at least for the early 2000s. The range of people you can encounter and recruit while playing in The World has a very wide range, including reclusive and depressive middle schoolers, a mother-to-be trying to pass time, and even an American Japanese teacher that’s using the JPN server to keep his language skills up. There’s no “chosen one” or group of super-powered teenagers, the heroes in .hack// are about as human and normal as you can get. You learn more about your allies by sending emails or going on quests with them. You can find special items, events, and even unique party members by trolling around on the game’s online forum. It’s pretty cool and engaging, since you can actually miss out on some really strong partners and items if you choose to ignore the side content.
The downside to all of this is that gameplay in the quartet has aged about as well as decade-old milk. Combat is very slow, and the game feels like a turn-based RPG despite your ability to run around freely. Skills and specials are all tied to menus, so you constantly have to break the flow of the game if you want to use one of your higher damaging attacks. This is not a game for those low on patience. I love the .hack// games because of their plot, world, and characters, and I find it a shame that the series traded in one of the deeper stories I’ve seen in a JRPG for less risky anime tropes and even worse world building in following entries.
At least the recent .hack//GU collection sold decently. Maybe Bandai will consider remastering or remaking the original quartet as well.
7) Devil May Cry 3
People often turn to nostalgia when constructing lists of their favorite things. What things hold personal importance? What events and memories can be tied to those things? And that’s certainly the truth for most this list, but not for this entry. Devil May Cry 3 is just a damn good game. Tight controls, great visual style, a kick-ass soundtrack, and probably one of the best representations of Dante the series has ever had.
Devil May Cry 3 is the embodiment of refining a game until all that’s left are its best traits. I have such a hard time thinking of things I don’t like about this game because so much of it is well done. When the worst part of your game is just re-fighting all the bosses in a Mega Man-style gauntlet, I feel like you’ve probably done a lot right.
A great video game is not defined by only one of its parts. You can have an amazing story, but if the game feels bad to play then only the most dedicated fans will get through it. Likewise, you can have a fun game, but if its aesthetics are off, or its characters don’t resonate, then it will be a challenge of tedium to get through. If you put all the good qualities of game design on a Venn diagram, Dante would be right in the middle with his smug-ass smile looking right at you.
6) The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask
It was really hard figuring out which Zelda title I wanted to put on here. This is a franchise I had been playing before I was even that interested in video games. The original Legend of Zelda was one of the first video games I had ever played, and Link’s Awakening and Ocarina of Time were the first games I owned. These games all hold a special meaning to me, but none quite as strong as that of Majora’s Mask.
Majora’s Mask is one of those games that I can always pop into my console and enjoy. It offers a large amount of variety in ways you can play and interact with things. The game is built with repetition in mind. Temples have multiple layouts, and different masks can be used to revisit areas and find new things to do. The world has a lot of repurposed assets, but the way they are used makes the game feel unique. I love the variety of ways you can tackle things with all the various masks and equipment that the game has to offer. I love the game’s soundtrack, and the theme of Clock Town will always be one of my favorite Zelda tracks.
This is the first game that I learned speed-running routes for, and is one of the few games where I attempted a run…only to find out that there had been new tech discovered that I didn’t want to bother learning.
5) Super Smash Bros. Melee
I’m not sure if there’s a single game in my collection that has as many hours crammed onto it as Super Smash Bros. Melee. Every other game I bought for the GameCube was secondary to Melee in terms of playability. There was no other game I would repeatedly go back to, no other game where I’d want to clear the challenges and try to beat my time, and no other game where I was committed to unlocking every stage, character, and pointless trophy (…and then my memory card died.)
This is a game that has been with me through every stage of my life. Melee came out right as I was finishing primary school. It served as my escape throughout middle school. In high school I met my first big group of friends through Melee because we’d all get together, practice, and then get bodied at major tournaments.
By college I had stopped playing competitively in favor of other games, but Smash was still the thing that kept most of my group of friends bound to each other. We played it a lot; in fact, we played it so much that we pissed off everyone else that wanted to use the dorm common’s TV.
My personal tales aside, Melee is also a great game. Its graphics are amazing, its gameplay is smooth and fluid, and its roster of characters ranges from staple Nintendo icons, to quirky joke characters, and even a few Japan-exclusive big shots. Melee feels like the perfect evolution of the original Super Smash Bros. on the N64. It moves faster, stages are more varied, and characters have more depth and options. Everything is an improvement.
My true competitive spirit grew through other games in college, but it would be ignorant for me to overlook the seed that Melee planted. It was the first competitive game I strove to get better at, and it’s the game I’ve met the most people through.
4) Nier: Automata
So remember earlier I was talking about how Devil May Cry 3 was in the center of a Venn diagram for all the components of game design? Well, take that diagram, turn it’s back, make it a grid, then give it a Z-axis and put Nier: Automata at the top of it. Yoko Taro and his team of highly trained goons have been making games for almost a decade now. The signature parts to a Taro-directed title are going radically against established tropes in both writing and game design. They mess with the player on a mental level, create sad and depressing scenarios that still end up feeling positive, and have a budget equal to what I paid for lunch in high school. Automata is all of these except that last one. Platinum Games stepped up to help. They combined their style and gameplay with Taro and his colleagues’ writing skills. What they made is probably one of the best games of this console generation in terms of story, engaging, varied gameplay, and beautiful visuals and music.
3) Super Metroid
There are very few games that I’ve replayed as many times as Super Metroid. There’s so much to do in this game despite an average play through taking roughly 3 to 4 hours. Super Metroid was what I like to think of as a finely condensed experience. The game was built with everything in mind about how the player would approach things. Like in Majora’s Mask, there’s always multiple ways to complete objectives which is part of what makes the game so much fun.
Super Metroid also gives the player an ample amount of tools to explore and use throughout its world, and many of the coolest ones are things the player won’t even know they have till they accidentally stumble upon a scenario that requires them. Wall jumping in particular is my favorite of these, and every time I pop the game in I try to find new sequences I can try to avoid, or items I can get early with properly timed jumps.
Rewarding the curiosity of the player is one of my favorite aspects of good design, and Super Metroid is rife with it. Games don’t need to have hours of gameplay and huge overworlds attached to them to make them enjoyable, the experience just needs to be something worth playing.
2) Resident Evil 4
I have bought this game more times than should be legally allowed. It’s disgusting. I think the real saddest part of it though isn’t having a Japanese GameCube version of Resident Evil 4, it’s not having the awful chainsaw controller that came with the Limited Edition.
I already put Fatal Frame on here as my appreciation for horror title, but then I remembered Resident Evil 4 isn’t horror. This game is bonkers. It takes all the strict melodrama and scientific aspects of the original Resident Evil trilogy and throws them out the window to make the world’s clunkiest action movie. I enjoy everything about this game’s ridiculous style, from Leon’s stupid one-liners to the unexplainably huge monsters. This game changed horror from a pseudo-adventure genre to a pseudo-action genre, but that’s not why it’s here.
My personal connection to Resident Evil 4 is similar to my connection with Majora’s Mask. I’ve replayed it more times than I can count. In high school I would do gimmick runs to keep the game interesting: pistol only, no healing items, and knife-only, to name a few. This turned into speed-run routes in college until I eventually lost the time to keep going.
1) Persona 3
Persona 3 is, without a doubt, one of the most important titles in shaping how I look at and play games. It’s a single-player RPG that mixes elements of life-simulation with dungeon crawling. I instantly fell in love with the weird collage of monster-collecting systems, adventure-style choices, and the fast-paced combat the game boasts. Persona 3 was my first real exposure to how Shin Megami Tensei games played (even if it isn’t one itself).
The thing I like the most about Persona 3 is how it integrates its story with its gameplay. Persona wasn’t always part life-sim like it is now, it started as something more akin to a digital Dungeons & Dragons. Persona 3 would be the first game to establish the mold the franchise uses now. You get stronger by talking with people and forming bonds with them, which translates into an easier time in battle while exploring the monster-filled labyrinth at the center of the game’s plot.
Persona 3 is also an incredibly beautiful game. It might not be much of a looker now, but the stylized graphics in the game looked great in 2007, and they fit very well with its electric-pop soundtrack. Speaking of the soundtrack, Persona 3 is one of the few games where I hunted down every soundtrack and remix album I could get my hands on. I absolutely love the music in this game, and there’s plenty of tracks that make for good listening both inside and outside the game.
Persona 3’s story is one of the few video game plots that resonated with me, and this has a lot to do with the life-sim aspect. The game’s big theme is dealing with change, a lot of it being around personal family issues, death, or just fear for the future. It’s a morose game, but I enjoyed seeing characters in a modern setting dealing with contemporary issues, especially since I had several similar issues in my own life at the time. A lot of the side-characters are more interesting to me for that reason. The main cast is all special-powered teenagers, but the people you meet outside of them are just normal people, and even those main cast members have their own personal issues.
Persona 3 is a complete package for me. It is visually pleasing to look at, and it has a great amount of artistic style. Its soundtrack is catchy and swaps between pop, jazz, and a few other genres. Its combat is fun and streamlined, if a little bit flawed compared to other Persona games. Most importantly though, are its themes and setting and how they are portrayed. I think the main and side-characters in 3 are the most relatable in the series. The game has its goofy points, but it’s not hard to find a character whose plight you empathize with. It’s a morose game, but one I think that changed my way of thinking for the better.
Alright, some honorable mentions while making this list.
Digimon World for being one of the weirdest and most oddly enjoyable RPGs on the original PlayStation.
The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds for being an amazing top-down Zelda game, and probably my favorite one.
BlazBlue: Continuum Shift for being the game that I got largely invested into the fighting game community with.
Bloodborne for justifying my PlayStation 4 purchase at a time when there was nothing on this big black box (and also for being a very scary action game).
Phoenix Wright: Trials and Tribulations for being one of my favorite adventure games, and easily my favorite Ace Attorney game.
‘Destiny 2: Shadowkeep’ Review: Moon’s Haunted but Still Shines
‘Destiny 2: Shadowkeep’ returns to a familiar destination but Bungie is reworking Destiny with each expansion and Shadowkeep is no exception.
Destiny 2: Shadowkeep may be a return to a familiar destination, the Moon, but Bungie continues the trend of reworking Destiny with each new expansion, and Shadowkeep is no exception. Replete with a reworked season pass system, progression systems, customization options, sandbox re-tuning and quest interface, Shadowkeep is both a welcome iteration and extension of the existing Destiny 2 experience offering more RPG-esque player agency than Destiny has ever seen before. While the game is still haunted by some overly familiar issues, Shadowkeep is a welcome expansion and a promising start to the third year of Destiny 2.
Old Haunting Grounds
The Moon isn’t the only familiar face in Shadowkeep. Keeping with tradition, Eris Morn has returned from a long absence for another dark, lunar expansion (the first being D1′s The Dark Below when the character was first introduced) as she investigates a disturbance deep within the Moon. Quite literally haunted by the past, Eris has called upon the Guardians to assist her in finding the source of the phantoms plaguing the Moon and vanquishing “Nightmare” versions of familiar visages from the past.
All is not entirely as old players might remember. An immense hive structure, the Scarlet Keep, now overshadows previously unexplored territory on the Lunar surface. New Lost Sectors hide in the depths of the Moon, and new secrets a la the Dreadnaught or the Dreaming City lie waiting to be discovered by inquisitive players. And at the very center of the expansion an ancient, unknown threat lies in wait, an ominous foreshadowing of the trials ahead.
While the expansion does a decent job ensuring the familiar haunts don’t feel overly recycled, it’s hard to say Shadowkeep makes the most of the Moon. The campaign opens on such a high note as players storm the moon in an unexpectedly matchmade sequence before individual Fireteams independently uncover an unanticipated twist that absolutely shatters expectation. Unfortunately, the narrative quickly devolves into uninteresting fetch quests that fail to live up to the intrigue of the initial mission nor live up to the narrative heights of some of the most memorable missions the Moon previously housed including fan favorites The Sword of Crota and Lost to Light to name a few. That’s tough company to keep, and Shadowkeep fails to measure up.
Similarly, a bit of that intrigue is reintroduced in Shadowkeep‘s final mission, but, like the campaign as a whole, it’s over before the player knows it and fails to live up to the precedent set by previous, lengthier campaign conclusions. More mileage is gotten out of the narrative and destination in the post-game in the way of a new weapon farming system, a new activity known as Nightmare hunts that play like mini Strikes, and a Strike proper, but that does little to alleviate the disappointment of an overly terse campaign that reads like a teaser for what’s to come over a distinct, fleshed-out story.
A New Era, a New Season
Part of that is presumably courtesy of a shift in Bungie’s approach to content releases. While the previous expansion, Forsaken, similarly opted for procedurally released content over the course of the season, Bungie has doubled down on that strategy with Shadowkeep ensuring there’s something new to be experienced each week that players sign in. While certain activities have alway arrived post-launch including raids, dungeons, and exotic weapon pursuits, Shadowkeep and its “Season of the Undying” has seen new PvE and PvP activities launched after the expansion’s initial drop, adding to an already lengthy list of Destiny to-dos.
Central to the season is the new PvE, matchmade activity, the Vex Offensive, which pits six players against waves of Vex combatants paired and features some minor puzzle elements, all for the sake of earning a series of weapons exclusive to the mode. While the Black Garden locale of the mode is certainly eye-catching, the Offensive, with its recycled mechanics and familiar enemies, doesn’t leave much of an impression beyond that. It might pale in comparison to activities introduced in past seasons (like Warmind‘s Escalation Protocol, or last season’s Menagerie), but is intentionally terse, intended to match this new seasonal philosophy, and will be removed from the game after Season of the Undying (though the exclusive arsenal will still be available in the loot pool obtainable through undisclosed means). Like the Vex themselves, the Vex Offensive might not seem like much independently, but collectively is a piece of a greater whole challenging and rewarding players for participating within the specific season.
Bungie is further defining each season with the inclusion of a seasonal artifact and a season pass system. The artifact, again only available for the season, offers players an avenue for additional, limitless Power gains while also offering unlockable gameplay mods encouraging players to utilize specific classes and builds. The Oppressive Darkness mod, for example, debuffs enemies hit by void grenades, encouraging players to construct discipline-oriented, void builds. Another mod, Thunder Coil, increases the power of arc melee attacks by fifty percent, giving all new life to the Hunter’s Arcstrider subclass. Meanwhile, the season pass operates similar to that of Fortnite or any number of games and replaces the previous cosmetic only level up system of Destiny 2‘s past. From the season’s outset, any and all experience goes toward unlocking rewards from the pass including new armor, armor ornaments, exclusive weapons and exotics, and engrams. The experience requirement for each level is static, meaning progress is fair and steady throughout and never feels throttled. Both seasonal systems are fantastic new additions that reward players for playing the game while making experience gains more purposeful than any other time in Destiny‘s endgame.
New Duds to Boot
Shadowkeep also marks the debut of Armor 2.0, a new system that allows players more agency in character customization than ever before. Whereas armor previously rolled with random perks and a roll of only three stats (Mobility, Recovery, and Resilience), Armor 2.0 comes with no perks and six stats as Destiny 1‘s Intellect, Discipline, and Strength (determining the charge rates of player’s super, grenade, and melee abilities) make their triumphant return. Instead, Armor 2.0 has slots for modifiers so players can pick and choose whatever perks they want just as long as they’ve unlocked those mods. Mods are acquired from most activities, while enhanced mods (better versions of certain traditional mods) are exclusive to some of the game’s more challenging content. While the grind for mods seems excessive in the face of the rest of the game’s grind, it’s a one-time affair, some of the best mods are unlocked via the seasonal artifact, and the payoff is astounding, providing customization like never before.
Convoluting the process, unfortunately, is a messy elemental affinity system where certain mods can only be slotted into armor of a matching elemental type. Mods relating to pulse rifles, for example, are exclusive to Arc armor, so a piece perfectly rolled to a pulse-rifle-inclined player’s preference with a solar affinity won’t do them any good if they were hoping for pulse rifle perks. It was undoubtedly an intentional design decision to generate an arbitrary grind since players won’t need to chase armor with perfect perks any longer but is ultimately a mar on the face of an otherwise pretty great new system.
Axe to Grind
Speaking to the grind, Destiny has often struggled and failed to find the perfect balance of meaningful power climb and tedious grinds recycling the same old activities. Luckily, at the outset of the climb towards max power, Shadowkeep strikes a much better balance centered on beloved ritual and new and or seasonal activities. Power drops now operate on a clearly labeled, tiered system, incentivizing players to prioritize new or challenging activities for maximum gains. Ritual activities (Strikes, Crucible, and Gambit), though tier one, retain their relevance by offering multiple weekly powerful drops for match completions, vendor bounties completed, and rank progression. Previous, otherwise irrelevant avenues towards power have been retired, but this is a welcome reduction and there is no shortage of powerful drops in the climb to max power. That isn’t to say that the grind couldn’t be shorter ensuring more players can participate in endgame activities when they first arrive, but progression generally feels smoother than any time in Destiny‘s past.
Conversely, content flow might overwhelm casual and even dedicated players as there’s simply too much to do and grind for players tight on time. Bungie now considers Destiny and MMO with proper RPG mechanics, and, in terms of time commitment, that really shows with Shadowkeep. On a certain week, a player might have an accomplished week in-game after sinking only three to five hours into the game. Other weeks the game seems to demand closer to the ten to twenty-hour range. One week, for example, saw the release of the new dungeon, a new Crucible game mode, an exotic quest, a new public event, and the start of the Festival of the Lost, a limited time, Halloween event. That’s simply too much, feels like poor pacing, and favors streamers, Destiny content creators, and hardcore players for whom Destiny is their exclusive hobby, a burgeoning theme with Season of the Undying. While it’s certainly exciting that there’s always something to do in D2, it doesn’t seem true to the game’s roots as a hybrid, a shooter with MMO elements, that could be taken at a more casual pace but still offered an engaging endgame for the dedicated audience. Now, there’s only an endgame with no end in sight.
A Better Destiny Awaits
That’s not necessarily a bad thing for players who want to pay a minimal price for seemingly unending content, and in that regard, Shadowkeep is a steal. A sensational new raid (minus some finicky new mechanics), a foreboding dungeon, an immense new arsenal to grind for, and a better tuned PvP and PvE sandbox in which to enjoy them mean Shadowkeep will keep Guardians’ attention the whole season long and is an excellent proof of concept for the seasonal structure going forward. If Bungie can keep this pace up, year three of Destiny 2 could easily be the best year in franchise history. As a general caution though, Destiny 2 now clearly caters to the hardcore, requires MMO levels of commitment, and is best enjoyed with a regular group; casual, time-restricted, and solo players beware. It might not be the best single expansion release in franchise history (that’s still a toss-up between The Taken King and Forsaken), but, beginning with Destiny 2: Shadowkeep, the third year of D2 is the closest the tumultuous title has ever come to Bungie’s ambitious vision for the shared-world shooter and the game fans have been waiting for these past five years.
What Are Some of the Switch’s Best Indie Devs Making?
The Nintendo Switch has quickly become the preferred platform for some of the most talented indie studios in the industry. Its pick-up-and-play form factor and Nintendo’s concerted effort to court smaller developers this generation (complete with indie-specific Directs) has resulted in a library that’s positively flourished.
Despite the eShop falling victim to some of the discoverability and shovelware issues that long plagued Steam, there have been some real standouts over the years. Since video games take quite a while to produce, there’s often speculation as to what some of the premier developers have been working on. Let’s take a look at four of the most recognized indie studios on the platform and have some fun trying to figure out what they might be up to.
It’s hard to believe that 2017’s Golf Story was Sidebar Games’ first project as a studio. The two-man team from down under balanced a delightful dose of Australian-tinged humor with clear callbacks to the Mario sports games of old to deliver one of the best Switch exclusives in 2017, bar none.
Unlike the other studios on this list, Sidebar has been extremely silent on development progress; we can only glean bits and pieces from the few interviews they’ve done. We know the game has been in development for roughly two years and that Sidebar was still in active development as of March 2019 when they put out the call for a pixel artist for their next project. There’s also a fair chance that the new game will either be Switch-exclusive or target Switch first, seeing as how Golf Story is still one of the Switch’s top 10 best-selling indie games to date as of Spring 2019. If exclusivity worked so well the first time, why not try it again?
What Can We Expect?
Whatever Sidebar is working on, it’s almost guaranteed to be single-player and story-focused. One half of the dev team, Andrew, has gone on record multiple times saying that he’s “very partial to story modes.” This also players into one of their strengths; though there was a great time to be had with Golf Story’s golf, it was all elevated by the game’s ridiculous-yet-lovable characters and wacky situational humor.
Since the team has already deconfirmed a sequel as their next project, there’s really not much to go on. While I’d personally love them to tackle something Mario Tennis-inspired next, there’s a good chance they’ll avoid sports altogether. As long as the wit found in Golf Story is alive and well, though, their core audience is sure to be interested.
Despite being incredibly simple from a visual standpoint, the deceivingly charming Slime-San is still one of the best platformers to come out in recent memory. The game’s striking three-color art style isn’t just unique, but it’s also ingrained into the platforming mechanics in inventive ways. Beyond having a look all its own and a stiff challenge for players who wanted it, however, Fabraz went the extra mile to build a fun cast of characters and even a hub world to explore outside of the main game. It was a pleasant surprise from a relatively unknown developer at the time.
Fabraz has been anything but complacent since Slime-san’s launch. The studio released two free content expansions, ported the game to other consoles, and even got into the publishing business. No matter their other ventures, however, the team has made sure to tease their next project every so often since the start of 2019.
What Can We Expect?
Fabraz speculated that their new game was already roughly 60% complete at the start of October. Since it only began production in December of 2018, it’s safe to assume that the next game will be relatively small in scope. It’s also likely that Fabraz’s next outing won’t be “Slime-san 2,” since the original game received such heavy content additions months after release (including an expansion literally titled “Sheeple’s Sequel.” The team certainly knows how to make magic from very limited resources, so it’ll be interesting to see what they can do with a bit more of a budget, a new art style, and tons more experience.
Game Atelier/FDG Entertainment
It feels like Monster Boy and the Cursed Kingdom came out of nowhere. The team at FDG Entertainment had published indie darling Blossom Tales: The Sleeping King just the year prior and the console port of Oceanhorn before that, but there wasn’t much talk about FDG’s capabilities as a developer. As it turns out, however, Game Atelier’s choice to bring them on as a co-developer was the best thing that could’ve possibly happened to Monster Boy. Five long years of development later and fans were treated to one of the best platformers in recent memory.
Though it launched on all consoles, Monster Boy famously sold eight times more on Switch than PS4 and Xbox One combined, reminiscent of the sales of Blossom Tales on Switch. Needless to say, FDG’s next title will be targeted squarely as the Nintendo community. But what could that next project be?
What Can We Expect?
A Monster Boy sequel. FDG recently celebrated their collaboration with Game Atelier on Twitter and announced that they’re collaborating once more. The commercial and critical success of Monster Boy can only lead one to believe they’re hard at work on a follow-up together. Thankfully, with such a solid base to work off of now, this one shouldn’t take nearly as long to release.
Chucklefish has garnered a great deal of respect in the indie community as both a developer (Starbound, WarGroove) and frequent publisher (Stardew Valley, Timespinner, the upcoming Eastward, and others). Their eagerness to bring so many of their top-notch titles to Switch has made them one of–if not the–most lauded indie studios on the platform. If it’s coming from Chucklefish, there’s a good chance it’ll be of the highest quality.
What Can We Expect?
Witchbrook! Chucklefish announced the game way back in 2017 and instantly had both Harry Potter and Little Witch Academia fans foaming at the mouth. It’s a magical school simulation/RPG where players will attend class, learn spells, make friends, date, and work towards graduation. The company’s CEO and lead designer, Finn, has been incredibly open about the game’s development from the beginning. In fact, he made the ever-changing Witchbrook design document public in August of 2019 to give some insight into the game design and planning process.
Since there’s already so much we know about where the game’s going, this is going to be used as more of a “Hopes for Witchbrook” section. To keep it short, let’s focus on two of the game’s most make-or-break elements: dating and world-building.
One of the things many RPGs struggle with is making dating feel meaningful after the relationship starts. People love romancing in Stardew Valley, but the experience itself is really rather shallow; bring characters their favorite items, talk to them daily, experience a few touching cutscenes and voila! All that’s left is to put a ring on it and have a baby.
My hope is that in Witchbrook, the real fun starts after the relationship begins. Being able to have lunch together, go to festivals, celebrate anniversaries, plan outings, and even introduce them to the player’s in-game friends would go a long way in making the relationship feel more than a ribbon to be crossed.
When someone asks the seminal question “What fictional world would you love to live in?” the world of Harry Potter almost always tops to list (right next to Pokémon, that is). It isn’t just because of magic itself or the emotional ties people have to the cast, but more so because of the immense amounts of personality and lore J.K. Rowling infused into the world. From the dark history of Hogwarts to the vast array of magical beasts to the establishment of Quidditch, there is a whole movie and video game series that has been created based on mere slices of the Harry Potter universe.
Naturally, it’d be silly to expect Chucklefish to achieve as much depth in an indie project as one of the most successful authors of all time did over the course of seven books, but there’s still plenty of potential. Since the game will primarily take place at the school, exploring why the school was created and how it’s changed over the years could be quite interesting. Then there’s how different populations of the world at large feel about magic, how various magical species play a part, the favorite magic-imbued pastimes of students in the world of Witchbrook, and so on. The key will be to infuse magic into every element of the world (and gameplay) as naturally as possible. And after reading through the extensive design doc, I’ve no doubt Chucklefish will be able to pull it off.
The indie scene on the Switch is thriving more than ever. New talented developers are making the platform their home every day, and those who’ve already proved themselves are hard at work on their next premium experience. The next wave of releases from these studios can’t come soon enough.
‘Death Stranding’: And Now for Something Completely Different
Video gaming as a medium has often been perceived as little more than a toy. Even with Nintendo pushing the NES as a part of the home and more than just a toy– a strategy they’d adopt again for the Wii– there are still many who see games as toys, rather than an expression of an art form. It makes perfect sense, though. If there’s one thing modern video game culture has pushed front and center this past decade, it’s instant satisfaction. As big-budget games embrace homogeneity, the medium’s priorities have shifted from capitalizing on its inherent interactivity to making sure gamers are never bored with their $60 toy. Reggie Fils-Aime famously said “If it’s not fun, why bother?” for a reason, but when every big-budget game is paced the same, structured the same, and plays the same, where’s the fun to be found?
About Death Stranding…
It’s far too early to even assume what kind of impact Death Stranding will have on the medium & industry (if any), but as one of the last big budgets games to release in 2019, Hideo Kojima’s first crack at the “strand game genre” is a nice note to cap the decade off on– one that serves as an almost necessary palette cleanser as the medium heads into the 2020s. Death Stranding offers audiences a chance to breathe, to look at themselves in the mirror, and to reconnect. Not just with the world and others, but with a medium built on interactivity.
Hideo Kojima is often criticized for his cutscene ratio, to the point where it’s not unusual to see critics suggest he just make a film, but the fact of the matter is that most games do need a story. Not just that, video games have the potential to present a story better than any other medium. Readers and viewers can place themselves in the shoes of their protagonists, but a game makes the player become the protagonist. How we control our characters, how we play, how we interact with a virtual world– all this is a reflection of ourselves, one that only the gaming medium can offer.
Not that it often does, at least not meaningfully. Modern developers are afraid to lose consumer interest, and the increasing shift towards the “games as a service” model has ensured that gameplay loops are simple to pick up, simple to get into, and simple to stay into. Games are something to be played with– toys. And there’s immense value in that. Video games can be a fantastic way to reduce stress & clear one’s thoughts regardless of how they’re designed, but such an approach means that the average gamer is going to be accustomed to gameplay loops that are structurally derivative of one another.
On the flip side, there are the games that prioritize narrative too much, or simply devalue their own gameplay with extraneous content. From Hideo Kojima’s own gameography, this is a mistake he clearly made with Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots. Even from this decade, it can be argued that what little importance Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain placed on the story ended up hurting it in the long run because it distracted from the core gameplay loop. There’s a reason so many developers follow similar game structures and build off similar foundations: they’re reliable, they get the job done, and it does result in great games. Both The Last of Us and God of War (2018) are clear examples of how mechanically homogenous & predictable games have gradually become this past decade, but they’re still great games.
Death Stranding is one of the slowest AAA titles to release in quite a long time.
Death Stranding is most comparable to Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain and perhaps The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, but really only on the most surface of levels. Death Stranding has AAA backing, but it has the creativity and ingenuity of a modern indie. While AAA developers have lined up for uniformity, the indie half of the medium has arguably never been better. Those who grew up alongside video games are now developing their own, calling back to and even evolving forgotten genres. All the while, AAA games only move closer to the Disneyfication of movie production– hit all the key demographics, make it “accessible” for everyone, and make sure there are no real ideals or beliefs. No need to upset potential consumers, right?
It shouldn’t be forgotten that Death Stranding was backed by Sony and developed by a massive development team, but Hideo Kojima’s direction is far more in-line with the modern indie scene than that of his AAA cohorts. Death Stranding is one of the slowest AAA titles to release in quite a long time. It’s slow to start, slow to pick up, and even the core gameplay loop is slow. It takes hours before players get their first vehicle, and even longer before they finally get a weapon. Death Stranding saves its actual core gameplay loop for so late in the experience that it’s not unreasonable to suggest the game sees an entire genre shift halfway through. But that’s missing the point. Death Stranding’s “genre shift” is only going to feel so for those who don’t want to engage with the first half’s crawl– those who just want to play with a toy.
Of course, just wanting something simple and immediately engaging to play is fair enough. For working adults with limited time to play a game, in particular, but not every game is going to resonate with everyone, even if a game like Death Stranding is designed for anyone. Death Stranding seems inaccessible & foreign in a generation where every big genre release plays like the last, but between a myriad of difficulty options and an online system designed to make the player’s life easier– one that works & works well– Death Stranding takes the medium’s interactivity to its next logical step: connectivity. Real connectivity, though. A connection that goes beyond playing against or with someone for a few minutes.
In Death Stranding, players can leave a tangible mark on, and in, the world. Players can build structures for others, share with others, and just do something as simple as “liking” others. Those opening hours are incredibly valuable as– without the means to kill or fight back– players are forced to interact with the game world on a deeper level beyond combat. Death Stranding takes its time developing its gameplay loop, drip-feeding weapons, and concepts. Even the online component opens itself slowly, forcing players to understand what it means to be alone before they can forge real connections– with the world, others, or themselves.
This is what Hideo Kojima understands better than the majority of modern AAA developers: games can connect a feeling directly to the player. Death Stranding’s best moments (as any should be) stem from gameplay. Kojima’s storytelling is engaging as ever, but it exists to bolster the gameplay– as does the slow pacing, as does the aggressive enemy AI, as does locking out weapons for hours on end– everything in Death Stranding is ultimately in service of connecting players to Sam in a way that feels genuinely meaningful. Through Sam, audiences can observe an America that’s in ruins, but one that society is rebuilding.
As Sam reconnects America, opportunities arise to finish bridges for others, leave supplies in remote areas, or just warn of dangers ahead. It’s very Dark Souls-esque in nature, but with a gameplay loop that minimizes traditional action, Death Stranding is the rare AAA game that’s bold enough to embrace the medium and everything it represents, for better or worse. A video game interacts with an audience in a way that books and film can’t. Controlling an avatar is an intimate act and reflects us better than most might realize. Death Stranding recognizes this fact, turns its back on modern gaming mainstays, and attempts to reconnect the medium together.
Death Stranding is a slow game, but the longer path walked only presents an opportunity to reconnect oneself to the heart of gaming: interactivity.
AAA gaming and the indie scene shouldn’t be divided. A gameplay loop doesn’t need instant satisfaction to be engaging. Story and gameplay shouldn’t feel disconnected. Standard online multiplayer can be more rewarding when PvP elements are tossed to the wayside or even just outright ignored. Death Stranding resembles the average AAA title in many respects, but it allows itself to be eclectic, off-putting, & sincerely unfiltered– in regards to politics, human nature, video games themselves. Only time will tell if “strand games” will take off, but keep in mind that the stealth genre didn’t exist when the hit “action” game Metal Gear released for the MSX2 in 1987. As Death Stranding makes abundantly clear, everything changes with time.
The 2010s have not been a bad decade for the medium, far from it. The past ten years have seen truly legendary consoles and games come out of the woodwork, but it’s impossible to deny the shift that occurred (and had been occurring) in AAA game development– one that’s driven the medium far away from meaningful interactivity, where flavor of the month games long to be played for all eternity, like Toy Story-esque monstrosities given form. Death Stranding is a slow game, but the longer path walked only presents an opportunity to reconnect oneself to the heart of gaming: interactivity.
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