Rundown (6/21-6/27) Everything is Complicated!

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Wherein I discuss a problematic power paradigm, Smash getting the win-win, a massive temporal rewrite, the end of a mixer, the continued battles fo the EDF, a new digital expo, China’s budding influence, and the Bandai Namcos.

This week was busy for PR sanctioned video game news, but something that has been just as if not more prominent, if not more, has been an outpour of individuals calling people out for their history of sexual harassment towards women and grooming minors. This has been used to knock down certain figures such as former Obsidian Entertainment writer Chris Avellone, who has been taken off of the narrative team for Dying Light 2 in light of the allegations levied against him. Or… this growing list of YouTubers/streamers who allegedly used their clout to coerce sexual favors from women.

While I do not like the anger and frustration that arises from these call-outs, I do view them as a force for good, exposing individuals for their past misactions, and forcing them to face the consequences for inexcusable behavior. None of which should be happening, but given the outpour seen over this past week, it’s safe to say that this is by no means a series of isolated incidents and, like just about every substantial issue currently faced by human society, it is tied to something bigger and systematic.

A lot of the people who exert pressure on women sexually, or abuse the trust they have with minors in order to garner their own emotional or physical satisfaction, do not think about these subjects deeply and simply abuse the power they have been given. They do so because the power is innate. It is, from their perspective, both invisible and normal. They do not understand what it is like for those who lack power, how to use their power responsibly, and as such, it is abused.

How is this problem solved? Well, not easily or cleanly. Aside from an unrealistic and radical reform, this change can only really come from those with power being more mindful and aware of the power they have. They need to be more thoughtful about their actions, willing to view situations from the perspective of others and understand that no matter what, they are not the normal or the default. Because nobody is. Everybody in this world is dealing with different circumstances and living in a system that puts people on uneven playing fields. If you are born with an advantage, that’s great, go and use it, but do try to acknowledge and understand the power you might have towards others. …Or in other words, just try and be nice to others. I’m so bloody sick of people not being nice to each other…

This week kicked off with the previously announced reveal of the first character of the second fighter pass for Super Smash Bros. Ultimate, a character from the illustrious cast of Nintendo’s modestly successful 2017 3D arena fighting game, ARMS. But who of the expanded cast was chosen? Was it the box art boy Spring Man; the most boring and safest choice? Box art girl Ribbon Girl; the second most boring and safest choice? What about the provocative Twintelle; the name I saw most when casually skimming through Nintendo threads a few months back? Or perhaps it was multiple characters in one, similar to the Hero from Dragon Quest.

Nah, it was just Min Min, one of the more popular characters from the game, and a personal favorite of ARMS producer Kosuke Yabuki, who personally recommended the character, and… yeah, if their goal was to maximize happiness, she was probably the best choice. As a fighter, she is a bit of an odd one, being very strong when up against slower and larger enemies with limited aerial movement, as she is able to fire off long-range deliberate moves that pack a wallop, but struggles to counter enemies attacking from above, and precise timing is key when battling foes in mid-air. That is, assuming you only use her arms, but she also has weaker kicks to help round out her moveset, and make her look like a quirky yet interesting character. Given Smash’s track record at this point, I’m sure she’ll garner a great little following when she debuts on June 29th.

Also available on June 29th is another collection of Mii Fighter DLC costumes. This iteration includes fellow ARMS fighter Ninjara. Heihachi from Tekken returns as a costume, after being introduced in Smash 4. Callie and Marie from Splatoon, looking off due to the different proportions seen in Splatoon characters and Mii Fighters, to the point where I’d say they should be alts for the Inklings, but that’s not what the dev team decided to do for whatever reason. Along with the most curious addition of Vault Boy from Fallout, despite Bethesda having never released a Fallout game on a Nintendo platform other than Fallout Shelter. It’s a questionable pull, but if Warframe spirits are in this game, then why not include the Fallout mascot character?

Following the success of Crash Bandicoot N. Sane Trilogy and Crash Team Racing Nitro-Fueled, many began to wonder where, if anywhere, Activision Blizzard would take the series next. Would they continue this remake train from the beloved yet flawed PSOne times to the less beloved and more flawed PS2-era iterations, Wrath of Cortex and Twinsanity, or if they would do something different. Well, they chose to do the latter by boldly announcing the next title as Crash Bandicoot 4: It’s About Time.

A title that represents something of a more lateral move for the series, keeping the same running coordinator approach to platforming while adding additional minor mechanics and setpieces. New power-ups, the ability to grind on rails, and new locales aplenty as the game is about time travel… just like Crash Bandicoot 3: Warped. All of which could be indicative of the developers at Vicarious Visions sticking to what they knew worked in N. Sane Trilogy… but they are not involved in this project as far as we can tell, as it is instead being developed by Toys For Bob, the primary studio behind the Skylanders series, and Spyro Reignited Trilogy… for some reason.

Regardless, the tile is set to release on October 2, 2020, for PS4 and Xbox One, and I am curious about how well it will fare. While the previous Crash, and Spyro, remasters did quite well for Activision, I have to wonder how much of the success enjoyed by the two prior titles is due to them being remake rich in both nostalgia and content that released for the low budget price of $40. Will this same audience take kindly to a brand new game that lacks this nostalgic draw, likely features less content, and will cost a full $60 at launch? Part of me wants to openly say no, but I suppose we’ll just need to wait and see.

Streaming is something I seldom discuss on Nigma Box as, despite the widespread popularity of the activity, I am not really a fan of live broadcasts and much prefer my video content to be on-demand. I do not care much for the social engagement aspect of seeing the live reactions of other like-minded people, and I honestly have not watched more than a few minutes of a live stream that wasn’t some press event since the days of sites like Justin TV and Ustream. Even then, I really only remember watching the 2008 holiday stream for That Guy With The Glasses where furry TG/TF artist AkuOreo called in for some reason. The first game stream SlimKirby did back in like 2008. And a few times when Jacob Hope Chapman streamed select episodes of random anime series. Or in the case of the weird but average Jyu On Sei, he streamed the entire 11 episode series.

I bring this up because I like to regale you readers with inane details about my personal life, but also because Microsoft’s attempt at a streaming platform, Mixer, was unceremoniously shut down this past week much to the non-surprise of everybody who forgot about the platform, and to the surprise of many people working for it. This marks the end of Microsoft’s internal attempts at a streaming platform and going forward Microsoft will be partnering with Facebook Gaming as part of a strategic move regarding their in-development xCloud game streaming service.

This is all well and good, or rather crummy and bad, but what does this mean for the streamers who were offered insanely lucrative exclusivity contracts 10 months ago? Well, their contracts ended, and while they could have signed a new one with Facebook Gaming, instead they took the money and left. Meaning that uber-popular streamer Ninja got ~$50 million for 10 months of streaming, and when you have that kind of money, you cease to be a person and become somebody who can treat the Earth as their plaything, assuming they have a financial advisor set up an annuity for you based on… a tenth of your net worth.

Next up, budget-tier publisher D3 recently announced two Earth Defense Force titles at once. The first being Earth Defense Force 6, which is set to forego the campy B-movie vibe of the series in favor of something very 2008-video-gamey, with a demolished grey and brown cityscape littered with grey and brown enemies. A rather bold choice considering how the ability to distinguish enemies from one’s environments is a quintessential element of visual design across video games of all genres.

This is supposedly due to the dismal ending of Earth Defense Force 5, a conclusion that leaned heavily into the fact that EDF is a series about humanity’s struggles to fend off an imposing and relentless alien menace, and whose ending resulted in humanity being in utter shambles. EDF 6, which takes place a mere 3 years after 5, sees the aliens deployed on Earth resurfacing, stronger and more robust in numbers, while humanity is struggling to regain its footing, priming what is set to be a far more dire and dismal EDF game… but I’m not sure if that is a good thing. EDF is dumb. It’s silly. It’s a simple yet cathartic game series, and an excellent one at that. But hey, if this is what developers Sandlot really want to do for the next game, then I say let them experiment and get it out of the system while I patiently wait to see how this title fares after it releases in 2021 as a PS4 exclusive (that will come to PC eventually).

In the meantime, Yuke’s, the developers of WWE games prior to WWE 2K20 and 2019’s Earth Defense Force: Iron Rain, recently announced another EDF spin-off they are working on, dubbed Earth Defense Force: World Brothers. A playful and vibrant title that centers around a mysterious phenomenon that turns Earth and everything in it into cubes… while also shattering the Earth into smaller fragments. It is up to the player to reunite the planet, recruit more members, or Brothers, to the EDF, and fend off the alien scum while partaking in a nostalgic tour de force with characters, locales, enemies, and weapons from earlier games all being carried over and reimagined as voxels. This is certainly a very… a unique take on the series, but it looks cute, silly, and like it might actually run half-decently on most hardware, so I’ll definitely check it out in due time. Currently, the title is slated to release in Japan in 2020 for the PS4 and Switch.

On the subject of smaller studios who put out niche games, recently a scattering of Japanese developers and publishers who specialize in localizing quirky Japanese games gathered and put together a showcase of their upcoming titles, dubbed the New Game+ Expo, which involved a 46 minute long presentation that was followed up with a day’s worth of live streaming some of the games shown. How was the showcase itself? Fine, I suppose. Things moved along expediently, barring a few interstitial breaks, but they also had very few true announcements to speak of, with a lot of details shown being follow-ups to announcements made within the past three months. I understand why this is the case… but it still made for a very skippable showing all things considered due to the number of fluff announcements seen here. On that note, let’s get onto the highlights!

Fight Crab looks to be a glorious tribute to everything absurd, stupid, and amazing about video games, as it is a physics-based fighting game about two crabs battling it out wither with their claws, or with a wild assortment of weapons as shown in some of the most beautifully absurd trailer footage I have seen in a long while. Sure, it looks unrefined and profoundly silly, but gosh darn it, you can stage a giant enemy crab battle in the middle of the city, with both opponents wielding 50 meter long swords! How could you not love it?

Idol Manager is a title I have kept an eye on since its 2018 Kickstarter, as it is a detailed simulation game about managing the lives and careers of an idol group, with the player serving as their producer. With the title promising to show the industry in a detailed and realistic way, taking the player to manage finances, PR, the emotional state of the teenage girls under their employment, combating rival groups, and avoiding various scandals. Combined with high-quality artwork, slick menus, and what looks to be a lot of compelling semi-randomized drama, it looked like a rad game back then and is shaping up quite nicely now that it is in the final stretch of its development, with a PC release planned for sometime in 2020.

Escape from Asura is a very curious title that I’m going to need to carve out an entire section for and, in order to make everything as clear as possible, let’s start all the way back from the beginning. In 2015, niche JRPG developer Imageepoch, who was a beloved studio by many JRPG nerds, suddenly and abruptly shut its doors. Their latest game, Stella Glow, was delayed, they declared bankruptcy, and during all of this, the CEO, Ryohei Mikage, went missing and deleted his Twitter account.

This was a wild story then, but things went quiet shortly thereafter, and word about Ryohei Mikage or what the hell happened to Imageepoch did not crop up again until May 2018, when he did an interview with 4Gamer. Mikage clarified that the closure of Imageepoch was due to dwindling sales, projects being cancelled, and the rise of the mobile games market, which Imageepoch was not properly equipped to enter. After everything crumbled, Mikage formed Mikage LLC, whose first truly noteworthy title was announced in February 2019 as Criminal Girls X, a free-to-play gacha RPG for smartphones, PC, and possibly PS4.

Now, Criminal Girls is a series with a bit of a storied history, mostly with regards to its western release in 2015. Prior to coming out, the title was surrounded by controversy, as the game was a particularly perverted RPG featuring women of a questionable age being placed in sexually suggestive situations. NIS America, the western publisher, edited a number of scenes for the international release, but this did little to dissuade people who thought the game was still incredibly ecchi, and only went to anger people who wanted their raw uncensored lewdness. The fallout from all of this gave the series a bad reputation in the west, and the announcement of Criminal Girls X was not super well-received as such.

Still, development on the title continued, a “pay-once” version was successfully funded through a Campfire crowdfunding campaign, and details about the title emerged that sought to clarify what the game is, but only made things more confusing. Such as how the primary gameplay system centers around shooting segments where the player character drives a motorcycle, but it apparently was still technically a turn-based system that also has the player change tactics based on suggestions made by their party of titular Criminal Girls. Oh, and the game also supports VR… because it wasn’t quite weird enough.

Despite all of this confusion and circumstantial weirdness, there is still something about this title that I find rather enticing between its grunge-kawaii aesthetic and stylish character designs, and I am definitely going to keep an eye on it as more details emerge and it gets closer to release. Escape from Asura is currently slated to release on PS4 and Switch in 2021 by way of Aksys games.

The success of Bloodstained, a Kickstarter-funded game that, unlike the likes of Broken Age, Mighty No. 9, and Shenmue 3, managed to actually meet expectations, is easily among my favorite success stories of the past generation. And not just because I spent way too much money backing it in 2015. However, I have to wonder what the future holds for this series after Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night receives all the promised stretch goal content over the upcoming year or so, and if this will represent a promising series going forward.

Well, the answer to that question appears to be yes. Back in May of 2018, IntiCreates released a prequel title to Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night, dubbed Bloodstained: Curse of the Moon, an unabashed throwback to Castlevania 1 and 3 that was widely beloved by diehard fans and did pretty well for a downloadable $10 title. As such, it really should not be too surprising to hear that IntiCreates is taking another crack at things with the creatively named Bloodstained: Curse of the Moon 2.

A title that aims to evolve and expand upon the gameplay stylings seen in the original game by expanding the moveset of the starting protagonist, Zangetsu, and introducing new characters between the spear-wielding Dominic, the gun sporting Robert, and Hachi, a Corgi who pilots a mech suit and stomps demons in the face. While classic Castlevania gameplay has never really been my cup of tea, this game still looks like a rousing good time and is set to release on PS4, Xbox One, Switch, and PC on July 10th.

Shifting to something I actually can see myself getting into, Spike Chunsoft has announced that the fifth game in the Shiren the Wanderer Mystery Dungeon series, dubbed Shiren the Wanderer: The Tower of Fortune and the Dice of Fate, will be freed from the gulags of the Playstation Vita as the title is remastered for PC and Switch. This is actually a title I have been low-key hoping would come to PC for quite a while, especially after Spike Chunsoft began throwing so much of their semi-recent back catalog onto the platform, as I heard nothing but great things about it, and was always curious as to what the pure distilled version of Mystery Dungeon was like. Now, fresh off of Pokémon Mystery Dungeon Rescue Team DX, I am even more curious, and will inevitably get around to this game sometime after it launches in 2020.

The showcase then rolled to an end with one final announcement, but rather than being an entirely new game, it was merely a localization announcement from NIS America, who snagged the Ys license once again despite having horribly botched the release of Ys VIII. Yes, after releasing in Japan in 2019, Ys IX: Monstrom Nox was confirmed for a western release on PS4, Switch, and PC in 2021.

Like always, the game follows goodest boy and bi-annual world saver, Adol Christin, as he once again finds himself stumbling into a new place, getting thrown into a kerfuffle around his control, and being sent to stop billowing darkness from taking over the world. Except, as is now a series tradition, he is joined by a gaggle of anime ladies and boys to fend off the threat in an action RPG that borders on character action based on some of the patterns seen in the trailer. As for what makes this installment different, it’s that Adol has been sent into prison city, turned into an edgier version of himself known as a Monstrum, and can now run on walls because that’s cool.

Following last week’s Pokémon Presents, The Pokémon Company teased that they had a big project to reveal, which sparked some speculation and worry as to just what would constitute a big new title. Well, the answer turned out to be a partnership with the biggest name in video gaming, China’s golden boy, Tencent! Yes, as part of The Pokémon Company’s prolonged efforts to diversify and expand the brand across as many avenues as they reasonably can, they are pairing up with Tencent subsidiary Timi Studios in order to create Pokémon Unite. a 5 versus 5 “strategic team battle game,” also known as a MOBA, and also known as a League of Legends or DOTA clone.

Now, this project was almost assuredly greenlit for more cynical and business-minded reasons, as MOBAs are a very profitable genre, Pokémon is a very profitable IP, and Tencent is a name that investors love to see due to their financial performance over the past few years. But regardless of the reasons behind this title, it is still something that a lot of artists and designers worked hard on… even if the game looks more than a touch blasé and generic. There are some things I thought were neat, such as how Pokémon evolve and learn new moves during every round, and how you can catch wild Pokémon throughout the match for later use. But everything from the Pokémon selection, the drab battle arena, and the UI, it all looks like a factory-made Chinese mobile game… because it is. Well, a mobile game that is also coming to Switch and no specified release window.

The idea of a larger publisher opening up an independent branch to help publish smaller titles is an idea that has become somewhat common in recent years between EA Originals, the Square Enix Collective, and Sega’s willingness to lend out old IP to independent developers. It’s something that I’m glad to see publishers doing, even though I’m not sure how successful any of them have been. I mean, aside from Sega’s efforts, but that’s mostly due to the nostalgia value in things like Streets of Rage and Wonder Boy from both those buying and developing these games.

I bring this up because yet another big publisher is throwing their hat into this metaphorical ring, and it’s none other than Bandai Namco. They have formed a strategic alliance with Japanese independent game publisher Phoenixx and Japanese advertising and PR conglomerate Dentsu Group in order to fund and manage the production of new titles from independent developers that use Bandai Namco IPs. While the presence of three companies is a tad perplexing, it is nevertheless an initiative that could produce some wonderful things as old franchises are revived and promising titles are given a larger platform and the resources needed to become something amazing.

That about covers it for this week, so if you’ll excuse me, I need to get back to writing the 25k-30k novella that Random #010 has become. See ya!

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