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This Week in Gaming News: Buy ‘Em Out, Boys

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Howdy, pardners. If any of you have managed to wrench yourselves away from Red Dead, I welcome you to another roundup of the week’s gaming news sautéed with some of that classic British sarcasm and moaning you all paid the entry fee for. You get the kettle on and I’ll get started…

MeXbox One

Ola, mi amigos! Microsoft held a special event in Mexico City this week and gave it the snappy name of X018, like some kind of reverse Mega Man timeline. While nobody’s socks will be blown off by what the quality of was announced and shown off at the event, it certainly wasn’t lacking in quantity. I’m not going to discuss everything in the event here because it’s tough to care about a lot of it (yes, including Kingdom Hearts 3 trailers because I’ve never fancied playing a Winnie the Pooh video game), but I’m going to use up a couple of sections to talk about the two biggest and juiciest pieces of news.

Arguably the biggest announcement was Microsoft’s acquisition of two more gaming studios, although it’s big with a proviso. If these studios go on to make more shitty Avatars or something of similar pointlessness, then it means about as much as if they’d acquired me. If, however, we get either some great games or a certain remaster then we can all walk hand in hand and sing songs of joy – hell, maybe even X018 will catch on as a name, you never know.

Gaming News Obsidian

It couldn’t happen, could it? Surely not…

Three paragraphs in, and it’s probably about time I told you who those studios actually are. The first up that was snapped is InXile Entertainment, most famous for the Bards Tale series and Wasteland 2 – a post-apocalyptic RPG from the producer of the original Fallout. The sexier of the studios, however, is undoubtedly Obsidian, known for Star Wars: KotoR, Fallout: New Vegas and the good South Park RPG (the first one about sticks). Microsoft made the reassuring statement that both studios “will continue to operate autonomously and bring their unique talents, IP, and expertise to Microsoft Studios as they build new RPG experiences for our players and fans.” Worry not then, it seems.

There’s a full rundown of the event here, but to briefly list the other announcements of lesser note, X018 gave us news on Black Friday Xbox deals, DLC for Forza Horizon 4 and State of Decay 2, new content and modes for Sea of Thieves and Devil May Cry 5, and some keyboard and mouse support. Oh, and one more thing…

Xbox Finally Cracks Down

File this one under ‘for real this time’ with caution, but that there Crackdown 3 game has an actual, proper, confirmed, legit, definite release date now. Celebrate! Remember much about 2015? Probably not, right? Well, that’s when Crackdown 3 was revealed to the world at Gamescom alongside its “100% destructible environments.” It’s been delayed every year since then, but nobody cares about that anymore, because it’s absolutely, positively coming out on February 15th 2019.

Creative Director Joe Staten announced the release date during X018 alongside a trailer for the game’s multiplayer mode (the only place where those destructible environments actually exist) called Wrecking Zone, which centers around two teams of five agents trying to raze the other’s tower to the ground. The game will be available on Game Pass, further enhancing that service’s relevance, and as a bonus (or maybe an apology), the original Crackdown is now free on Xbox One until November 30th.

Squenix is Not for the Squeamish

Oof, it’s been a painful week for Square Enix. The company announced on Friday that three of the four DLC expansions for Final Fantasy XV have been cancelled and that game director Hajime Tabata has left the company. According to Gamespot, Luminous – the new internal studio who were developing the expansions – will now focus on making a new, unannounced, AAA game.

The cancellation of the expansions comes in the wake of the earnings report posted by the company that showed £33 million losses, and it seems those losses have been cut at the expense of FFXV. I’d surmise that the company perhaps lost money by wasting it on development of one of the worst games ever in The Quiet Man, but it’s clear that barely any money was spent on that game – especially on the sound budget, amirite?

Gaming News Final Fantasy

Not pictured, the DLC or the game’s producer

As is seemingly always the case, the departed director is not done with games yet, and can now make that project he was always planning without the shackles of corporate overlords. In a statement, he announced “I have a project that I truly wish to solidify as my next challenge after FFXV. For that reason, I have decided to leave my current position and start my own business in order to achieve my goal.” Expect him begging for money on Kickstarter in the coming weeks.

Well Hiiiiiiiiiiiiiire Me, Princess

The video games industry is a pretty unique one in that it can generate more excitement at the existence of a job advert from people who won’t be going for the job than from people who will be. Games companies looking to hire is undoubtedly exciting when it involves someone working your favorite game franchise, and few come with as much guaranteed fervor as The Legend of Zelda.

The job listings don’t really give off too much revealing information, but the key components, as translated by Resetera member guru-guru, mention that one of the roles requires “experience working on HD hardware,” and that the other is for a level designer. He notes that duties include “[planning] game events, the field, dungeons, [and] enemies.”

Could a Switch remaster be the cause for the job opening? Would anyone want to play this game again?

Two schools of thought therefore exist regarding what these job openings mean. One thing that is guaranteed is that this is a 3D Zelda game that will be on Switch (thanks to that HD hardware point). What isn’t guaranteed is whether it’s a brand-new title, or a remaster of an older game. You’d expect that a level designer wouldn’t be needed for a remastered title that already features designed levels, unless one of the older 2D games is getting a 3D makeover. Obviously, it’s not exactly a shock that Nintendo will be developing a new Zelda game, but it’s interesting how soon after Breath of the Wild we may see a potential sequel.

SwitchTube

Red Dead Redemption 2 is now on Switch! Well, it is if you watch a let’s play of it on the console’s new YouTube app. You can tell it’s been a bit of a slow week when a 2018 console barely catching up with the functionality of the Wii is big news, but I’m personally delighted that Switch is finally moving closer to being the multimedia machine it really should be. While you lovely Americans have at least had Hulu on Switch for a while now, us poor Europeans have had nothing but games on it. Granted, I’ve got a phone and a laptop, but the Switch fits a little niche in my gadget library as being a nice little middle ground for some toilet or bed-based YouTubing.

Gaming News Switch

If the main article wasn’t negative enough, rest assured I agree this took WAY too fucking long to arrive

Naturally, with the sales performance of the console, it would be madness not to add some additional functionality to it in order to keep the momentum going. Surely, developing app functionality on an OS that can clearly already handle it is an easier way to bolster the system’s holiday season draw than developing new games, so hopefully this app is the first of many. Netflix was spoken about way back in January as an ongoing consideration for Nintendo, so expect movement on that in the new year. For now, you can now download the YouTube app for free (and without a Nintendo Switch Online subscription) on the Nintendo Eshop.

Right, I’m away to stream some Call of Duty Blackout, and I’ll see you in seven.

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

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Let’s Discuss the Revamped Sonic the Hedgehog Design

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The internet has breathed a collective sigh of relief following the release of a new trailer for the upcoming Sonic The Hedgehog movie. Some leaks a few weeks back that turned out to be correct showed the design that we see but the trailer shows a lot more of the new redesign of the world renowned video game character. The movie has been the subject of much attention-mostly negative- after the initial trailer was released six months ago. The first trailer (which initially announced a release date of November 2019) was incredibly poorly received due to the odd design choice for the titular character. With small eyes, a tiny snout and human teeth, the original design was weirdly realistic and resembled an odd humanoid rather than the blue cartoon hedgehog that we all know and love.

The first design for Sonic looked a bit like a child in a Sonic the Hedgehog suit. Creepy to say the least.

The new trailer shows off a brand new look for Sonic which is far more in sync with what we already know for the character. He is definitely an animated character, with the exaggerated features that he has always had in every other iteration. The movie itself still looks cheesy as hell but it looks like a tolerable, even kind of enjoyable sort of cheesy.  The controversy surrounding the terribly received first Sonic design has been so prolific that some even argued that the whole thing has been a marketing ploy and that the character was never meant to look as bad as he originally did. Whatever the case may be in terms of what went down behind the scenes of the Sonic the Hedgehog movie, it is clear that even if the film is terrible it will attract a substantial audience of people just curious as to how the whole thing is going to turn out. As a fan of Sonic since the 90’s when I was little, I’m probably going to be one of those people.

Sonic is now appropriately cute, fluffy and more in line with his usual style.

I’m still kind of hoping it can break the curse of the video game movie-like Detective Pikachu did- but alongside the aforementioned cheesiness, it looks like a pretty generic movie aimed at kids rather than diehard fans of the Sonic franchise. Flop or not, at least Sonic is looking far more adorable and less like he might murder you in your sleep. It also shows how the filmmakers were willing to listen to their audience and implement changes following feedback. Incredibly vocal feedback at that.

The comparison between the two designs shows just how much the animators have worked to create a brand new Sonic. Their hard work has certainly paid off.

Sonic the Hedgehog is due for theatrical release on February 14th, 2020.

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Anamanaguchi – [USA] (Album Review)

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Few acts boast such renown amongst uber-nerdy video game enthusiasts as Anamanaguchi. Unveiling their debut EP ‘Power Supply’ in 2009, the Chiptune pioneers have pushed their unique brand of 8-bit powered Rock and Pop across various releases, including 2010’s Scott Pilgrim vs. the World: The Game soundtrack, and 2013’s Kickstarter funded 22 track LP ‘Endless Fantasy’. And with ‘Endless Fantasy’ being their last LP (excluding their stuffed to the brim ‘Capsule Silence XXIV’ compilations), to say fans have anticipated ‘[USA]’ is an almighty understatement.

Six years is a while, so has Anamanaguchi’s latest batch of tracks been worth the wait? Seasoned fans Harry and Kyle are on the scene to offer their takes, from how ‘[USA]’ stacks up against the band’s other offerings, to its effectiveness as an artistic whole.

Background With Anamanaguchi

I first heard Anamanaguchi around 2010. At the time I was neck deep in my Slipknot phase (a phase I’ve yet to grow out of judging by how much I replayed ‘We Are Not Your Kind’ this year), so their goofy electronic schtick didn’t tick my boxes. But as time passed I developed a stronger fondness of them, so much so that I enthusiastically backed their 2013 LP ‘Endless Fantasy’ on Kickstarter. Now I’ve seen them live twice, followed their progress over the years, and can proudly proclaim my superfan status. – Harry

The late 2000s saw a shift in pop culture: suddenly, geek chic was all the rage. G4 was at the height of its popularity, pixel art infested countless pieces of media, and video games were undeniably cool. Few other pieces of media encapsulate this cultural zeitgeist more than Scott Pilgrim vs. the World: The Game. Based on the popular comic by Bryan Lee O’Malley, the Scott Pilgrim game featured Anamanaguchi’s crunchy pixelated Rock sound, which melded perfectly with the colorful 16-bit beat-em’-up gameplay. Older Anamanaguchi albums are more than just music: they’re a trip back in time to a brighter, more innocent era of pop culture and gaming. – Kyle

Introducing [USA]

I was excited for ‘[USA]’, but that’s stating the obvious based on my prior words. The LP kicks off with its titular track, introducing affairs with an amalgamation of predictably glitchy bleeps ‘n’ bloops. It’s straight up Anamanaguchi, their Chiptune flair intact. This is good, as Anamanaguchi sans Chiptune is like spaghetti sans sauce (still awesome, but lacking a key ingredient). “USA” is chanted as instrumentation morphs stylistically, crescendoing in dynamics and tempo, and setting the stage for the lead single.

“Lorem Ipsum (Arctic Anthem)” is an LP highlight. Stepping out the gate with Vocaloid-y singing, an aesthetic of grandiose gorgeousness is speedily cemented. This later juxtaposes with the rapid-fire rhythms of Luke’s drumming and manic synthesizer arpeggios that run around like an 8-bit-ified (Sega Master System) Sonic the Hedgehog. This mental meld of melody, Drum and bass, and all manner of other musical magic finally sinks into a sea of atmospheric spookiness, concluding in an out of left field (yet utterly engaging) way. “Lorem Ipsum (Arctic Anthem)” avoids predictability through each and every beat of its journey, but nails catchy accessibility to a tee. A masterclass in creative songwriting, it sets ‘[USA]’s’ bar sky high. – Harry

The weeks to ‘[USA]’ releasing were positive ones, marked by enticing singles like “Lorem Ipsum (Arctic Anthem)” and “Air On Line”. Anamanaguchi’s distinct Rock-flavored Chiptune style had undergone a stylistic shift in the band’s 2013 release ‘Endless Fantasy’, where the band shed off some of its punk flair in favor of dreamier synth tones. In the six years between LP releases, Anamanaguchi experimented with singles and EPs featuring sonic palettes characteristic of modern J-Pop (“Pop It”, “Miku”). While the band stretched its legs with poppier beats, it did mark a further departure from the traditional Rock-oriented sound that had defined much of their earlier work.

‘[USA]’ in many respects displays a return to Anamanaguchi’s roots. Tracks like “On My Own (feat. HANA)” and “Air On Line” boast driving guitar riffs, thumping drums, and fluidly complex intricacies. Yet, it’s more than clear that Anamanaguchi has evolved beyond their geeky beginnings to cultivate an airy soundscape of bright pastel colors and crystal clear tones. It doesn’t always hit the mark, but the highs that ‘[USA]’ can reach prove that the guys have still got it. – Kyle

Negative Bits

Unfortunately, said sky high bar is scarcely met again throughout the rest of ‘[USA]’. Plenty of tracks, like “The C R T Woods” and “Overwriting Incorporate”, are serviceable, but fall short of the laser focused compositional direction and melodic magnificence that Anamanaguchi are so super slick at. ‘[USA]’ suffers from banality, with tracks like “Tear” and “We Die” meandering noisily without focus, and big chunks (particularly the interlude-like tracks “Speak To You [Memory Messengers]” and “Apophenia Light [Name Eaters]”) feeling akin to ‘Capsule Silence XXIV’ cuts (i.e. decent demos, but not kickass LP standouts). – Harry

Much like Harry, I found a large chunk of the album rather dull to get through. Admittedly, Anamanaguchi has an undeniable talent for their synth instrumentation. However, what pushes their work beyond generic electronic music is their ability to anchor that instrumentation to a melodic through line built on catchy hooks and unexpected turns. “Lorem Ipsum (Arctic Anthem)” is one of the few tracks that manages to pull off this floaty, ethereal sound because it moves forward with purpose and constantly engages your curiosity. The same can’t be said for several of the other synth-heavy tracks, too lost in their own sound to offer anything truly engaging. – Kyle

Positive Bits

Nevertheless, there are flashes of brilliance here. “Sunset By Plane (feat. Caroline Lufkin)” is Anamanaguchi firing on all cylinders, delivering energetic poppy bombast in spades. Porter Robinson’s co production is evident in “Air On Line”, resulting in a smooth stomper of happy hooks. “B S X (feat. Hatsune Miku)” incorporates choppily glitched-out singing from the iconic Vocaloid, serving as a pseudo-sequel to the 2016 single “Miku”. “On My Own (feat. HANA)” sees Anamanaguchi’s Chiptune/Pop/Rock melting pot bubbling away again. And speaking of Chiptune, it’s wonderful to hear mountains of 8-bit eccentricity throughout ‘[USA]’, proving even as their sound matures, Anamanaguchi still celebrate where they came from with beaming pixelated smiles. – Harry

As a whole, ‘[USA]’ still deserves a place worthy of praise in Anamanaguchi’s discography. Porter Robinson only collaborated with the band for “Air On Line”, but his style bleeds wonderfully into tracks like “Up to You (feat. meesh)” and “Sunset By Plane (feat. Caroline Lufkin)”. The kawaii-infused J-Pop rhythms and hooks are infectiously catchy, but don’t let that fool you: Anamanaguchi haven’t lost their edge. “B S X (feat. Hatsune Miku)” and “On My Own (feat. HANA)” show that the band can reach back into their deep musical pockets and bring out their signature hard Chiptune Rock to surprise you with something intimately familiar. – Kyle

Final Thoughts

In typical Anamanaguchi fashion, ‘[USA]’ is ambitious from start to finish. ‘Endless Fantasy’ is bloated, but stylistically spot on, whereas ‘[USA]’ trims the fat, but gets a little lost in its journey. Glistening gold sits alongside stale pies, and that description is a fitting metaphor for elements of ‘[USA]’: it’s odd, and doesn’t make much sense (and perhaps that in itself is a metaphor for the real life USA?).

Still, when Anamanaguchi’s latest is good, it’s really good, and there’s bundles of genius in the 8-bit boys yet!

Check out, stream, buy or consume ‘[USA]’ in your preferred capacity by clicking HERE!

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Star Wars Fan Films Embrace the Essence of A Galaxy Far, Far Away

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There is no doubt that dedicated fans are capable of creating brilliant, fan-made content, but the Star Wars fan base has a habit of going above and beyond in making incredible works of art that often surpass official entries in the franchise. Two relatively recent short fan films — one released last week, the other released in March of this year — are great examples of this.

The first is a 1970s/80s-style cartoon from YouTuber Wilkins Animation called Dark Empire Episode One: The Destiny of a Jedi. This animated short is incredibly reminiscent of classic cartoons — so much so that it is difficult not to feel a pang of nostalgia upon watching it. The style gives off a He-Man vibe due to the quirky animation, stellar voice work, and vibrant colour scheme. The story is set after The Return of The Jedi as Han, Leia, Chewbacca, R2-D2, and C-3PO embark on a mission to save Luke and Lando, who are stranded on war-torn Coruscant. I won’t spoil anything in case you want to check it out for yourself, but the story is engaging, and I couldn’t help but feel that I wanted to see more when it came to an end.

Have a watch below if you want to see more, and to check out Wilkins Animation’s Patreon to support their work, click here.

The second fan made film is a slightly older (from March 2019) one called Battle of the Dreadnoughts, by YouTuber EckhartsLadder. The film is significantly shorter than the 12-minute Dark Empire cartoon, clocking in at about three and a half minutes. It depicts a space battle between the New Republic’s Viscount Class Star Defender and the Empire’s most dangerous of all its weapons, the Eclipse Super Star Destroyer. Battle of the Dreadnoughts may be short, but it is astounding in quality. Upon my first viewing, I was certain I had accidentally clicked on a scene from the movies rather than a fan-made project. The accuracy, attention to detail, and sheer scale blew my mind and — as with the Dark Empire animation — left me wanting more from the content creators involved.

Check out EckhartsLadder’s Patreon here and their Twitch account here.

There is no doubting the talent of the Star Wars fan base, but these two films in particular are incredible works of art both in their own right and as Star Wars fan projects.

For more Star Wars, have a read of our Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker trailer breakdown.

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