Monday, June 3, 2013

The Games of June 2013.

It's E3, it's-a Eeeeeee Threeeee! What's got two thumbs and is super-excited?  This guy.

We've already seen the pre-ripples of the show, with devs like Techland, PopCap, Double Fine (which I really should've posted about and you really should check out) and Escape Hatch doing their best to get their messages out before the crush of information sweeps the smaller folks out of earshot - and I guarantee it'll only get better-slash-worse as the week goes on.  Expect at least two days of news news news, leaks leaks leaks and one or two lulls before the storm hits next week, and the show begins in earnest.

'Course, you needn't be bored in the mean time (on 360 in particular) - many publishers let their bigger titles drop in June, as general industry buzz is high and sales tend to do well before the kiddies get out of school for the summer - and this month, something very wicked this way comes.

June 4th
Remember Me, a third-person, story-driven action/adventure
PS3, 360, PC
Hype-O-Meter : Day One / depends what you're lookin' for.

I preordered Remember Me months ago. Now - today, in fact - reviews are popping for the game and reactions are very mixed, though the general consensus is that the platforming and combat are lackluster, but the world and story are wonderful.

Which is exactly what I expected and wanted when I laid down my $70.   I didn't desire this game because of its okay-looking combat or its Uncharted-esque platforming - that all seemed rote.

I preordered it because its world looked fantastic and beautiful, it has what appears to be a very cool sci-fi story and a female protagonist - which (Wet, Alice: Madness Returns, Lollipop Chainsaw, the Tomb Raider reboot) almost always means I'm in for a very cool, very good time.

I doubt I'll have regrets, and hopefully I'll be able to let you know by this weekend.

June 4th
Limbo, an atmospheric puzzle-platformer.
Hype-O-Meter : Cross-buy!

Playdead's puzzle-platformer set in an un-living world, naturally, refuses to die, and having been ported to every platform under the Sun it arrives on Vita this week.  Is it worth playing?  Yes. 

Is it worth fifteen dollars?  Depends how disposable your income is. [Review.]

[update] Limbo is - weirdly enough - a cross buy title!  If you already have the PS3 version, you can download this brand-spankin' new Vita version free. [/update]

June 5th
State of Decay, an open-world zombie survival action game.
Hype-O-Meter : If I weren't committed to Remember Me this week, I'd be all over this.

Set in a rural area, State of Decay is both an action game and (apparently) a tense survival/strategy title which sees you setting up a base and fortifying it against undead hordes, setting out into the wastes to save other survivors (who you can then play as and access their special abilities) and gather supplies and new weapons.

Developer Undead Labs don't have any other titles under their belt, but the studio was founded by a fellow named Jeff Strain, who was the lead programmer on a little game called World of Warcraft, and also helped start up Guild Wars developer ArenaNet.  State of Decay is said to be a trial-run of the studio's real ambition - putting together a zombie MMO.

This is a game like Dead Island or XCOM or Mark of the Ninja - there's nothing else quite like it, and if it ends up being good, it'll be awesome.  Oh, also?  Music by Jesper Kyd.

I just sold you on it, didn't I?  Jesper Kyd!

June 7th
Penny Arcade Adventures: On the Rain-Slick Precipice of Darkness Episode 4, a 16-bit style turn-based RPG.
360, PC
Hype-O-Meter : I really should play that free copy of Episode 3...

Zeboyd Games - a two-man show consisting of members of the Penny Arcade forum community - cut their teeth on the classic SNES-era JRPG-style titles Breath of Death VII: The Beginning and Cthulhu Saves the World on Xbox 360.  They kept plucking along with their comedy-RPGs until they got Cthulhu Saves the World onto Steam, where it almost immediately exceeded the lifetime sales of both their titles on XBLA combined.

When Hothead Games moved on to DeathSpank games after the first two Penny Arcade Adventures episodes, the franchise was offered to the far-lower-budget crew at Zeboyd - and they've been applying their cheeky design and enthusiasm to the series ever since.

Definitely worth a peek, if you enjoy retro gaming and the writing of Jerry Holkins.  And you should.

A story-driven third-person survival/action game.
June 14th - PS3 - Hype-O-Meter : Day One.

Given that they've announced there won't be a general release of The Last of Us's demo, I'm going to spoil it for you now, if you'll permit me.

The demo for The Last of Us begins with the words "what if it's true?  I mean, what if?  We've come this far let's just finish it, Joel."  And Joel replies,

"Do I need to remind you what is out there?"

Tess gives him a look, like he just said the stupidest thing in the world and tells him "I get it," before ending the conversation and walking away.  Behind her, the little girl says nothing - she just monkeys Tess, scowling at Joel as she follows the woman.  Once you gain control of him, you follow her too.

"If we cut through downtown we can make it there by dawn," Tess suggests - but Joel can't be so optimistic.

"We hope," he says.  Joel can't see success as anything but one of many possibilities.  Darker possibilities.

Immediately, we are shown so much character without any bullshit exposition, without anything extraneous.  Beautiful.

The demo then goes on, until - in the distance - there is a strange inhaled shriek.  So far off you're not sure you heard it - but Joel and Tess did.  "What was that?" asks Ellie.  Tess assures her it's far enough away not to worry about.  The clicker is introduced as a question mark.

What was that?

A few minutes later, we find out.  A dead clicker blocks their way, fungus erupting from it like cancer gone wild, blooming up the door frame.  Joel works the body free as Ellie wonders if the clickers are blind.  Tess explains that yes, indeed they are - but when they click, they can effectively see you via echolocation.

A touch more info.

Moments later, Joel and Tess put their weight into a blocked door and bust out into a hallway.  Joel sees nothing, but Tess points behind him and calls out a warning as the clicker crashes into him, riding Joel to the floor - shrieking and beating him, trying to get its teeth into him as his life bar ticks down and Tess kicks the monster off, destroying it with two calm shots to the face.

These things are dangerous.

Then, we're shown how to avoid one - just one - sneaking around a series of desks, distracting it with the sound of thrown bottles and bricks.  They're hard to kill - taking multiple shots to the head - but if you decide to take it on and you take it down (protip: sneak up and shiv), you'll find there are a few extras items to scavenge in the area.

Good to know.

The demo ends with an extend combat sequence, pitting Joel and a few meager supplies against a series of rooms infested with the feral, 28-Days-Later-esque runners (who can see you, but go down easily) and a single clicker (who cannot, and does not).  It's a very challenging sequence, strongly given to repeat attempts as you polish strategies and become familiar with the mechanics and controls.

It is... as perfect a demo as I've ever played.  The writing is beautifully subdued, the performances are lively but never over-dramatic, the combat is nothing less than sublimely intense, and the...

The design, man.  The design of this demo is remarkable.  Its structure, its pacing, and how it takes The Clicker from a creepy howl in the distance to a mysterious oddity to a monster to be cowered from to prey to be hunted is... it's as perfect a demo as I've ever played.  And that's just the demo.

Day one.  No doubt about it.  Day one.


And by that I mean fiiinally...

A 2D adventure-brawler-RPG.
June 25th - Vita - Hype-O-Meter : Day One.

Muramasa Rebirth, the PlayStation Vita port of Vanillaware's Muramasa: The Demon Blade will finally exist, and be in my hot little hands.   Muramasa is a forty-hour action-RPG that sees you crisscrossing a massive 2D rendition of feudal era Japan as Momohime, the princess who has found her body possessed by a criminal desperate to avoid eternity in the underworld, and as Kisuke, the amnesiac fugitive ninja who cannot remember the crime he committed.

Now, I'm going to blather on about Vanillaware in general for about three hundred words - but keep in mind, all of what I'm about to say applies to Muramasa in particular as well.

Oh Vanillaware, how do I love thee?  Let me count the ways.

One - sprites! No other developer in the world maintained a dedication to 2D sprites and the sweet animation thereof while polygons took over the world, and it wasn't until the last two years (Klei Entertainment, Ubisoft Montpellier) that other studios began trying to play catch up - not that they've caught them, yet.

Two - original! A prime counter-example, suggesting a lack of stagnation in the video game industry, and the Japanese development community in particular.  They roll the dice on the strangest shit (a horizontal 2D RTS on the PS2!), and create these weird and wonderful systems no one else would have the balls to try.

While Insomniac is off trying to make the next Gears of War, Vanillaware is actually taking risks.

Three - As! Triple-As. Vanillaware applies an obsessive-compulsive degree of detail to their games, from the hand-drawn art to the mechanics to a gently animated inventory screen where potions slosh about inside their bottles.  Beyond the fact that every game they make is gorgeous, no other developer specializing in 2D can approach Vanillaware for its lush, luxurious production values.

Four - groovy! Incredible music that has a permanent spot on my iPod and ends up on mix CDs for Kayla.

Five - playable! Thoughtful, natural-feeling mechanics that can comfortably sweep the player through their remarkably extensive campaigns.

Though - full disclosure - it's worth noting that Vanillaware's mechanics rarely attain the depth of other developers working the same genre.  Muramasa's combat is not nearly as slick and deep as Shank 2's, for example - but it's super-fun! - and that is the only caveat I can level against any of their games that I've played.

Six - epic! They make RPGs that flex the very best strengths of being Japanese RPGs.  These are people who make a 2D brawler and lay it atop a fifty-hour epic melodrama of romance, betrayal, hope, revenge, lust, love and the end of days that can literally move me to tears.

It's been a mere nine months since Muramasa's Vita port was announced for Japan, and five months since it was confirmed for a North American release, but it seems like a lifetime. It'll be here in twenty-two days.

For the sake of absolute clarity - I endorse this game and feel you should purchase it.  Destructoid's been doing a good job of following it, and reports that both the gameplay and presentation are improved over the version that was localized for Wii in 2009.

It's worth noting that Sony has been dropping a lot of indie fare on the Vita lately without much warning.  Why just today I learned about a cool-looking co-op action-RPG called Orc Attack that's apparently out this month - you never know!

And that's June.  June?  I don't often say this to a collection of days on a calendar, but... I think I love you.

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