Review: Outer Wilds is a Bold, Memorable Space Game That’s Flawed to its Core

Launching my rickety rocket ship through my home planet’s atmosphere, I’m filled with a sense of wonder as I adjust to the beautiful calmness of zero gravity and infinite stars. Surrounded by sparkles of light, orbiting planets and complete stillness, I feel as if I can go everywhere and find anything.

Shortly after, I die. For a silly reason, at the worst possible time. Sometimes it’s my fault. More than it should be, it’s the game’s doing. Because I’m caught in a time loop, it’s back to my planet to launch again. Then another time. Rinse and repeat, until I’ve lost count. My once awe-inspiring moment of vaulting into the vast unknown degrades into a minor inconvenience then a frustrating hindrance to my adventure, as I start to worry more about getting back to the place where I died than exploring other parts of the solar system.

This, a constant cycle of curiosity and misery, is Outer Wilds. Allow me to explain.

The latest title from Mobius Digital is a first-person space exploration game, and is often quite good. It broaches topics rarely seen in games, from existentialism, cosmology and quantum physics to the ultimate fate of stars and the universe at large. Heavy, frightening ideas for an otherwise playful medium. I adored its plot, where the player controls a member of a four-eyed alien race called Hearthians who are obsessed with discovering more about their galaxy. In particular, learning more about a super intelligent ancient species called the Nomai.

The player, affectionately called the Hatchling by some, is readying for their (the Hearthians use “they” as their general pronoun) first launch under the Outer Wilds Ventures space program. As the game begins, I wake up confused. Poking around a village on home planet Timber Hearth reveals I’m a new astronaut in the program founded by older Hearthians, most of which are visiting other locations in the solar system. One of them is missing. There’s characters to chat up, a museum to visit and a weird rock that disappears when it’s not in view. Most importantly, there’s a creepy statue that looks like the majestic, three-eyed Nomai ancestors. As I walk past, it stares into my soul and seems to collect memories of everything I had done up until that point.

I searched as much as I could to get an indication of a goal or objective before I left. Outer Wilds offers no such thing. One Hearthian said I could find the other astronauts. All of them indicate that the species as a whole is really interested in the Nomai. Someone else hints that the thrill of space travel is never knowing what you might find! While I understand it’s a game purely about the wonders of exploration, since there’s no combat and barely any conflict, a byproduct of this limited framework is it can feel too meandering, the story is way too difficult to follow and, most importantly, leads to many cases where the player feels like their time is being wasted. More on this later.

It’s now time for liftoff. The glorious moment I described in the intro takes place. It’s really cool. The game does well to capture the beauty of the cosmos, between sound design and visual pizazz. Less than a half hour into my maiden journey, as I was desperately trying to gather anything I could from a character living on Timber Hearth’s moon, the sun explodes. Talk about baptism by fire!

Miraculously, the Hatchling wakes up. Back on Timber Hearth, in the exact spot where the game started. Not on the moon, which would make logical sense and save the time and frustration of having to navigate back, since I wasn’t done trying to coax information from my moon buddy Esker about just what the heck I should do next. Nope. In order to continue what I was doing, I have to spend precious time stumbling my way back.

When this cycle of death and resurrection starts to happen constantly, we gradually discover we’re caught in a time loop. One that lasts 22 minutes to be exact, after which the sun goes supernova. This is the game’s conceit, and it’s the driving force of the story while also being the single most frustrating thing about it. Even the revelation of why it’s happening is overshadowed by the fact that it’s been limiting my enjoyment the whole time. And I’m normally into games that play with the concept of time.

Learning of its infinite time quandary highlights my main complaints, and these things permeate all of Outer Wilds. The game lacks fundamental quality of life features, seemingly for effect. That doesn’t make it any less painful. It’s like Mobius’ decisions are at odds with one another. It wants to be about exploring, then sets arbitrary limitations that hinder the player’s ability to do so.

I wish the respawn location was more flexible. Or at least allow for more fast travel points, via warping technology that already exists in the game world. When small discoveries open doors to much larger ones, missing out on a crucial piece of documentation because of the time loop is unfortunate. What’s even more disheartening is not having an easy way to navigate a return trip.

Learning of its infinite time quandary highlights my main complaints, and these things permeate all of Outer Wilds. The game lacks fundamental quality of life features, seemingly for effect. That doesn’t make it any less painful. It’s like Mobius’ decisions are at odds with one another. It wants to be about exploring, then sets arbitrary limitations that hinder the player’s ability to do so.

Another huge, noticeable flaw right away is infuriating controls. Namely while flying the ship. These are not totally responsive nor intuitive. I found myself going in random directions, flying into the sun for no reason or crash landing to my death. Sure it’s funny once. It’s agonizing the twentieth time. When autopilot is a savior, you know the controls are poor. In terms of the space suit, boosting is useful though rules and functionality change based on gravity. Outside of the suit is the worst, with an abysmal jump button that requires holding the button. Luckily all of these became more tolerable as I learned them, though I still never felt truly in control especially in space.

It’s a case like Shadow of the Colossus or even the original Dark Souls. Games with so much going for them that I never want to play again because of frustrating inputs, whether unresponsive, laggy or inflexible. I often talk “game feel,” and I lump Outer Wilds in this group of titles held back from greatness because interacting with them just doesn’t feel great.

Turning towards narrative and pacing, Outer Wilds is vague, at best, in communicating any sort of goals plus opaque in its trail of breadcrumbs. Story is conveyed through environmental observation, conversations with fellow travelers or translation of Nomai text found throughout the solar system. All of which the Hatchling documents in a jumbled ship log, which is supposed to be used as a reference though ends up causing more confusion than it’s worth. A jumbled diagram of pictures, text and connecting lines, it’s borderline unreadable. Reminiscent of the meme from It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia where Charlie has cue cards behind him connected in every which way. It’s a series of scattered notes seemingly scribbled by a mad person, attempting to offer structure when really it shows just how muddled the story is.

It’s way too inconsistent in its puzzles and progression. Sometimes there’s just enough hints where it makes sense, where it feels great to figure it out. Others are so unclear that it’s near random. Especially as higher level concepts of physics and cosmology are introduced. It induces a feeling of inadequacy, or prompts a quick internet search which immediately breaks any sense of immersion.

Now I’m not one to use guides, especially when writing reviews. I’d like to experience a game and fail on my own, because I believe it speaks to core design. There were multiple points in Outer Wilds where I became exasperated. I wasn’t sure what to do. Sure, it’s the nature of an open exploration game. Though it also reveals how poorly it communicates direction. Especially towards the end. I kept failing to progress when I knew exactly how to do so. Turns out I was doing the right things, just not in the proper order, which I discovered via a walk-through rather than through context clues.

I’d hate for everyone to get the wrong impression, since I’ve been very critical of Outer Wilds throughout this piece. There are actually so many things to love about it, which makes it that much more painful to fumble through its flaws.

It’s hard to describe just how substantial the game feels in its subject matter. Mainly through Nomai writing and their impromptu settlements, we learn much about their background and intentions. They were seeking a place called the Eye of the Universe, for reasons that would be spoilers. The game proposes major questions about the nature of being and how memories are what makes up the self rather than anything physical. It’s a commentary on the finite nature of life and time itself, and how the Nomai were seeking something that could somehow stave off extinction. Even a couple days after finishing, I’m still feeling the effects of its amazing ending.

The location design and artwork is stellar (get it?). Each planet has its own aesthetic and rules. Brittle Hollow, where its fiery moon is raining down meteorites that break up the exterior to reveal that the center is a foreboding black hole. The Hourglass Twins, a pair of smaller celestial bodies that are named as such because sand flows from one to another which acts as a genius palette for environmental tricks. Then there’s the mysterious Dark Bramble, where dangerous monsters lurk amidst space that isn’t always what it seems. Exploring each of them was breathtaking. The first few visits, at least.

So much of the game is about observation, which is why I’ve dwelt on describing moments of discovery rather than interactions or mechanics. (Well, it’s also that the mechanics aren’t great.) The attention to detail in certain features is exquisite. Take the Nomai script. Adults draw smooth lines, while children have sloppy writing. Kudos to the designer that came up with this and other seemingly minor touches that add up when witnessed consistently. Nomai have distinct names and personalities. Relationships exist between characters I’ll never actually meet.

Though yet again, within this system is another quality of life issue. Written text from the Nomai language has to be learned during each time loop. Why? Especially when the clock is always ticking. Wasting precious moments determining if I’ve read a certain text before is unacceptable in a game where I already feel rushed.

The game proposes major questions about the nature of being and how memories are what makes up the self rather than anything physical. It’s a commentary on the finite nature of life and time itself, and how the Nomai were seeking something that could somehow stave off extinction. Even a couple days after finishing, I’m still feeling the effects of its amazing ending.

There’s a breakthrough that I’d say starts the “third act,” even though the timeline isn’t clearly delineated. I’m going to spoil part of it because I thought it was clever. It’s related to the game’s interpretation and use of quantum mechanics as part of gameplay, which is so unique that it could be a game in itself. Effectively, the player learns to leverage in-game photography capabilities to solve environmental puzzles. A true moment of clarity, that changes everything from then on out. I love how it’s bold enough to surprise the player, even though getting to that point is taxing.

I’d be remiss to forget that Outer Wilds also features great music, melodically and practically. It’s blended into the world as a means of identifying where other characters are, as each of them play different parts of the theme music and the player has a tool that can detect frequencies through space. There’s even an achievement for finding a spot where all of them coalesce into a beautiful harmony.

A word of warning from a technical standpoint. The game runs mostly well on Xbox One X, except for random staggers when loading into an area. A forgivable, mild annoyance. What’s not acceptable is I’ve heard multiple reports of frame dips on the other models of Xbox One. It also hard crashed on me multiple times in my last couple hours of play. In a game where discovery is essential, losing progress is a gut punch.

It’s obvious that I’m conflicted overall on Outer Wilds, about as much as I have been about any game this year other than BioWare’s Anthem. As a publisher, Annapurna Interactive has been impressive in its partnerships. This game isn’t a misstep, just more of a flawed experience than games of similar caliber and team size.

Mobius Digital went big here, as big as gets really, tackling topics that are more suited for college philosophy courses or quantum physics papers than video games. Which is why it’s so special, yet so disappointing that I didn’t like everything about it. I’m excited that studios are bold enough to try something like Outer Wilds, to propel gaming forward and prove it can ponder the largest of questions, even if I believe this one in particular didn’t completely stick the landing.

Title: Outer Wilds

Release Date: May 29, 2019

Developer: Mobius Digital

Publisher: Annapurna Interactive

Platforms: Xbox One, Xbox Game Pass, PC

Recommendation: Between its plot and subject matter, it had the potential to be one of my favorite games of 2019 if not the generation. It nearly gets there. I rate it as a mostly good game that will stick with me just as much for its flaws as its amazing, bold efforts. Its failed execution in certain areas is unfortunate, however I still recommend trying it especially if you like space adventure games, subscribe to Xbox Game Pass or both.

Sources: Annapurna Interactive, Xbox One X Screenshots.

-Dom

Review: Sega’s Judgment Is, Beyond Any Doubt, A Great Game About Revenge & Redemption

Please don’t hold me in contempt for that headline. I’m only here to prove why Judgment is so fantastic.

Alright. Turning to the game. Sega’s latest within the robust Yakuza universe is Judgment, a standalone third-person action game with investigative elements plus a genuinely thrilling narrative. It’s effectively a spin-off, developed by the same Ryu Ga Gotoku Studio team. The player experiences Japan’s unsavory underbelly through the eyes of Takayuki Yagami, a former lawyer turned private eye that operates in Kamurocho. The same fictional district of Tokyo as Kazama Kiryu of the Yakuza games.

Fair warning for early story spoilers. The general setup is Yagami-san gained renown for winning a case in which he successfully defended a man accused of murder, which is near impossible under Japan’s judicial system. Shortly after, that same individual is convicted of slaying his girlfriend then setting their apartment ablaze in a drunken stupor. Ashamed, Yagami relinquishes his law career and opens an upstart detective agency.

Three years later is where the tale of Judgment begins. There’s a ruthless serial killer leaving gang members dead and eyeless in Kamurocho. Yagami’s former law office tasks him with investigating the murders, which he does alongside business partner and ex-yakuza Kaito Masaharu. Both have ties to the Matsugane syndicate, in particular its patriarch who acts a father figure to both. The main antagonist is conniving family under-boss Kyohei Hamura, at least that’s how it appears in the beginning until the scope is blown wide open.

What transpires is a truly excellent, layered narrative with well-developed character arcs, surprising twists, hilarious encounters then even moments of debilitating sadness. It’s less about the devilish side of people, though that’s certainly a part of it, and more centered on redemption. Revealing truth in a system that is inherently designed to conceal it.

It’s so much deeper than it leads on, especially given its often humorous or exaggerated tone. Judgment‘s combination of main missions, side cases and playable flashbacks is an effective blueprint. All shed light on interactions between the legal system, police and gangsters then eventually political leaders. The core framework of Kamurocho’s power structure. There’s even commentary later about healthcare, Alzheimer’s disease and the lengths to which people go when they believe they are fighting for what’s right.

A major sign of a good story is triggering empathy for characters, even those that are despicable. Judgment does this by highlighting how everyone rationalizes their actions. It’s immensely rich for a game that appears flippant on the surface, and isn’t afraid to surprise the player with tragedy. This is especially true in its third act, which escalates brilliantly through to its revelations.

Shifting to mechanics, there’s a lot to do in Judgment plus many ways in which to do them. Yagami is somehow part genius investigator, part martial arts savant and all ladies man, though there’s in-game reasons for all of these which means they aren’t entirely unbelievable.

Yakuza protagonist Kiryu and our hero here share many similarities, as Judgment leverages the same “Dragon” game engine as recent titles in the franchise. Which means combat is amazingly fluid, super impactful and progresses all the way until the game’s finale. Encounters are smooth and satisfying, namely when teaming up with non-playable characters. There are tag-team combos and special moves galore, which is welcome due to the sheer amount of fighting.

Naturally, there’s also the investigative angle. Which is featured more prominently than the action side. This includes taking on cases, exploring the world, investigating for clues, chatting with people, chasing suspects and tailing suspicious persons, all of which introduce the element of player choice. Only a handful have fail states, namely the dreaded tailing sequences, though there’s usually a bonus for making the right moves. I found the investigations worthwhile and enjoyable, often times going in hilarious directions.

What transpires is a truly excellent, layered narrative with well-developed character arcs, surprising twists, hilarious encounters then even moments of debilitating sadness. It’s less about the devilish side of people, though that’s certainly a part of it, and more centered on redemption. Revealing truth in a system that is inherently designed to conceal it.

When it comes to main missions and world activities, the Ryu Ga Gotoku staff truly flexed their design muscles. Campaign missions are mostly great, pitting Yagami in battles on the streets and in dialogue. One in particular stands out as masterful, during which the game swaps perspectives between characters to show multiple angles of the same snapshot of time. One character is undercover, while Yagami is handling his business in parallel. It’s subtle in its setup, and subverted expectations by incorporating a character I never thought I’d control.

Not to mention how much optional content there is! In true Yakuza fashion, side activities and mini-games are just as enticing as the campaign. Minor storylines can even tie into the main one or other quests, proving that Judgment is flexible in its structure. “Friend” missions were my favorite, presenting opportunities to help folks out and gain bonuses for doing so. These can develop into friendships and even romances. The player is free to pursue one or more relationships. I was impressed at how well it handled these mini objectives and weaved them into the campaign, a common theme.

Then there’s virtual reality. Batting cages. Japanese board games. Darts. Poker. Black jack. UFO catchers. Arcades. Recreations of titles like Virtua Fighter and Puyo Puyo. A full light gun zombie shooter called Kamuro of the Dead. Too many to list. It reminds me of modern Grand Theft Auto, where even the smallest of side activities is well-crafted. My play time totaled over 50 hours, though I finished with just under 50% completion which proves just how much potential there is for fun in Kamurocho.

Judgment also features one of the best original playable pinball tables in all of gaming. (This alone is worthy of awards.) And there’s an entire drone building and racing portion with online leader boards. This is real smart stuff. Though while I’m.. singing the praises of its variety, there is one notable absence: Karaoke!

Saying this is nearly cliche, however very much true here. The city of Kamurocho feels like a character. Neon signs and pedestrians adorn a world that’s alive, with encounters at every corner. While not massive, it’s all open to be enjoyed at any pace. It’s large enough to have distinct communities though still intimate in its familiarity. There are also opportunities to see more of Japan than just the bright lights of the city, though that’s all I’ll tease.

Luckily, Judgment is never overwhelming which is always a risk in open world games. Grab some health or stamina boosts from a convenience store. Help the owner of a sushi joint improve its menu. Shoot, take a smoke break to catch up on gossip. The attention to detail in the realistic food dishes plus the eavesdropping areas where Yagami can overhear random conversations are just two of the many notable features.

Later in Judgment, it introduces a type of crafting mode in the form of elixirs. The character that creates them has quite a unique background, and consumption offers temporary bonuses that help especially with later game bosses. Crafting materials can be purchased from a pawn shop, gifted by friends or found strewn about the world. Leveraging this capability has its advantages.

Plus, I’ve alluded to it though haven’t addressed it directly. Its humor mostly hits, showing the skills of its creative writing teams. Quests can have ridiculous premises, like a popular Japanese idol who constantly loses his wig (that he calls a “hat”) in the wind then Yagami has to chase it down. Characters are adept in using horrible, amazing puns. Playing the game in Japanese with subtitles made them that much more laughable. (The English localization is well done, it just didn’t feel right.) How could I not love it?

I’d warn against judging immediately based on its lighter tone or over-the-top action. Judgment is a worthy addition to a beloved Japanese series, a piece that stands on its own by presenting first as a ridiculous action game then slowly revealing a strong commentary on the human psyche and our penchant for redemption.

Before we, hm, adjourn. Even a fine game isn’t without fault.

As the narrative spirals and characters develop, combat sequences get redundant in later acts even with Yagami’s improved skills and entourage of friends. Random encounters start as tests of strength then turn tiresome. Thankfully there’s actually an elixir that reduces world events, a welcome advantage when just trying to progress.

From a technical perspective, it looks nice. Especially character animations. Runs smooth enough, loading times are acceptable. It’s a bit janky in spots, perhaps a result of design rather than tech limitations. Especially transitions between dialogue, cut scenes then into live gameplay. Lots of screen transitions that disrupt the flow.

I briefly mentioned completion percentage before. When reviewing, I’ll do my best to see everything. In Judgment, some content is locked behind the player’s social level, which is unfortunate because the side cases are really cool. Even if I had another dozen hours with the game, I likely wouldn’t see all it has to offer. Which speaks to the volume of quality content, though also to the design choice of gating its later optional quests.

There aren’t many visual customization options other than disguises for stakeouts. I’d prefer to change outfits at my leisure. Yagami snagged a sleek looking suit after a friendship quest, then couldn’t even equip it except where the game deemed appropriate. What’s the point in having a fresh outfit if you can’t wear it?

Quickly on a much more serious note. Perhaps it’s a cultural divide, two particular side cases irked me: One involving a man with suicidal thoughts then another centered on a trio of perverts terrorizing civilians. It’s difficult to get into specifics without spoilers, though Judgment treats these extremely delicate topics in a lighter way than I would have liked. Especially suicide. Fair warning that these exist, and I don’t blame anyone for them being a turn-off.

As for my closing remarks, I can’t say enough about how much I enjoyed spending time in the world of Judgment. Especially witnessing the machinations between personalities in its main crime families then the legal system that tries to maintain order within a city of thousands, many of them hooligans or corrupt or both. Side content is a welcome distraction between heavy story moments and lengthy investigations, and pacing is decent even if combat sequences weigh on it in the back third.

I’m certain I’ve presented an argument sufficient to at least pique your interest, because it’s worthy of everyone’s time. I’d warn against judging immediately based on its lighter tone or over-the-top action. Judgment is a worthy addition to a beloved Japanese series, a piece that stands on its own by presenting first as a ridiculous action game then slowly reveals a strong commentary on the human psyche and our penchant for redemption.

Title: Judgment (Judge Eyes in Japan)

Release Date: December 13, 2018 (Japan), June 25, 2019 (Worldwide)

Developer: Ryu Ga Gotoku Studio

Publisher: Sega

Platforms: PlayStation 4

Recommendation: It’s required playing for PS4 owners, even for folks not very familiar with the Yakuza series. It plays similarly, so it might not change the mind of those that aren’t into this style of game.

Sources: Sega, GamesPress, PlayStation, Screenshots from PS4 Pro.

-Dom

Sony Should Focus on Internal Investment & Partnerships Over Acquisitions Ahead of Next PlayStation

“Charity begins at home.”

I believe Sony should focus mostly on this philosophy going into the next generation of consoles, rather than seeking growth through external acquisitions. There’s only so much funding to go around, and I’m betting those precious dollars are used for a combination of internal investment and partnerships with outside teams rather than outright buyouts of major studios.

I’ll now get into why this is such a hot topic, then outline each of my reasons.

Within a mostly innocuous report from the Wall Street Journal on the Japanese gaming giant’s decision to focus on gamers for its next PlayStation gaming console which means building out its portfolio of games (surprise!), the stand-out quote is how its main strategy is bolstering its lineup of games only available on Sony devices.

Then, local site Gematsu got in on the action as it translated a Nikkei report containing somewhat vague comments from Sony Interactive Entertainment President and CEO Jim Ryan about gaming content being of utmost importance and the company considering studio acquisitions as one of its strategies for this reason.

(I’ll note here that every major publisher, shoot every public company, has teams dedicated to merger and acquisition [M&A] research. There have been recent job postings from Sony seeking talent for its M&A team, though I’m not reading into this as much as others.)

Finally, PushSquare published a piece among other media sites on likely targets of Sony’s acquisition bucks. These and more sparked rampant speculation online as to which would be the best fits based on history and existing relationships. I’m here to say the ideal foundation going forward is not built on acquisitions, but rather more investment in what it does best. And that’s its current world class studios, upcoming hardware offerings and productive 3rd party partnerships.

The safer route is absolutely to spend its precious resources in its myriad of internal studios, which have produced modern classics such as The Last of Us by Naughty Dog and God of War from Santa Monica Studio, plus align itself with external companies through partnerships rather than outright acquisitions. The most notable recent example of such a fruitful team-up being Marvel’s Spider-Man from Insomniac Games, which passed a staggering 10 million copies mere months after release last September.

Similarly, I’ll go as far to say I’m not hoping for or betting on acquisitions of any major developers or self-publishers in the near term. This list includes Bungie, Insomniac Games, Kojima Productions and Remedy Entertainment. Rather, there’s a much higher likelihood of one *maybe* two smaller teams that aren’t as cost prohibitive. If forced to pick, my bet is Housemarque. Known for arcade type shoot-em-ups such as Resogun and Alienation, I think it’s really the only smaller team suited for purchase now based on its proclamation that its style of games purely aren’t selling well, plus its affinity for working with the PlayStation team in the past.

Why? Here we go.

1. Major acquisitions are costly, time-consuming and risky.

I get it. It’s fun to speculate. To dream up scenarios where a favorite game developer gets purchased by a platform of choice. It’s just, in reality, acquisitions are usually not ideal compared to partnerships and are a truly massive undertaking presenting a variety of risks.

Acquisitions aren’t just about a big company throwing money at a smaller one. Both parties must consent, really except in the case of ugly hostile takeovers which should absolutely not be a part of Sony’s strategy. It often happens when a company is in need of a financial injection, its growth prospects have depleted or, in extreme cases, bankruptcy is looming. It’s especially trickier the more closely held a company gets, which is the case with many of the private game studios. Even those with hundreds of employees. The decision lies in the hands of a select few, normally with both financial and emotional investment from years of independent operation.

Then there’s the topics of what kind of premium the target will squeeze out of the acquirer, how well do company cultures mesh plus the whole regulatory side, all of which make this process time-consuming and expensive. M&A activity is inherently risky, blending folks that haven’t worked directly together so there’s no guaranteeing the company works as well as a subsidiary. Or there might be layoffs that happen due to redundancies. What I’m getting at is these involve many other factors than merely dollars and cents.

Let’s take a couple examples. One public, one private.

A team like Remedy Entertainment is publicly-traded. The Finnish developer is valued around $115 million in market capitalization. Not a huge figure in the context of Sony’s war chest, though certainly not pocket change compared to other names in this conversation. Not to mention that comes before any sort of projects even starting. And it has investors already. Lots of them. It doesn’t need to be injected with cash, especially with a new game Control next month and a collaboration with South Korea’s Smilegate on its CrossFire franchise. Every indication is Remedy wants to be independent. Even when Microsoft was publishing games like Alan Wake and Quantum Break, it was on its own. Why would execs and investors change their mind now, unless Sony throws some exorbitant amount of dough at it?

Then, our private example is Insomniac Games. Run by industry vet Ted Price, it’s a natural name thrown around due to its history of producing games for PlayStation like the aforementioned Marvel’s Spider-Man. Insomniac is a heck of a studio, it’s been around for decades plus boasts a portfolio of Spyro the Dragon, Ratchet & Clank, Resistance and a personal favorite, 2014’s Sunset Overdrive. It’s also dabbling in virtual reality for the Oculus Rift. So, if it’s operated this long alongside PlayStation, why isn’t it a part of Sony? Exactly. As exhibited by its releases on Microsoft and Facebook (Oculus) platforms, Insomniac seems to value its creative independence above all else. And while we don’t know its valuation, to me this clearly shows its decision-makers haven’t seen a reason to become part of Sony Interactive Entertainment yet.

World class first party games are impossible without investing in internal teams before anything else. Instead of dropping $100 million or more on a Remedy or Insomniac, those funds can be funneled internally towards high quality projects for existing teams.

2. Investment in internal teams is a better use of cash.

At present, Sony Interactive Entertainment Worldwide Studios features a suite of more than a dozen teams. Guerilla Games. Naughty Dog. San Diego. Santa Monica. Media Molecule. Sucker Punch. And more, with a legit laundry list of projects under their belts that define what PlayStation is more than anything else. These will also be the main contributors to Sony’s launch lineup next generation when the (probably named) PlayStation 5 (likely) releases in late 2020.

This is a dazzling entourage of the most talented, prolific teams in all of gaming. They make games specifically for a single company’s platforms, PlayStation 4 and PlayStation VR presently. Which means they are experts. If the big focus is appealing to the hardcore audience, that means investing in the personnel that make up these excellent studios is of much more importance than trying to attract external talent. Not to mention, it’s more cost effective to retain individual team members at existing studios than to integrate entire teams.

Sony is known for its first party content. It’s why there are 96 million PlayStation 4 consoles shipped to date, not to mention the absurd numbers for prior generations where Sony has 5 of the top 10 best-selling pieces of hardware ever made. World class first party games are impossible without investing in internal teams before anything else. Instead of dropping $100 million or more on a Remedy or Insomniac, those funds can be funneled internally towards high quality projects for existing teams.

A preexisting agreement or relationship between a larger company and smaller development studio or self-publisher doesn’t necessarily precipitate a buyout, or even open the door to discussions on the possibility of one.

3. External partnerships are attractive for both parties.

When we talk partnerships in gaming, this includes stuff like marketing deals, exclusive content, pre-order bonuses and similar incentives to attract players towards one platform above another. As much as exclusives are not ideal, especially for those without multiple systems, it’s a reality.

The reason I think Sony should opt for partnerships over purchases is that from a corporate standpoint, these deals allow for the best of both worlds. Development teams benefit from the backing of a major console manufacturer, especially for advertising spend, while they also remain independent to pursue experimental projects or titles for multiple platforms.

Need a concrete example? Well, I already mentioned one in Insomniac Games. This time, I’d like to bring up Square Enix. I don’t hear anyone calling for Sony to scoop it up just because games like NieR: Automata or Final Fantasy VII Remake have an alignment with PlayStation as timed exclusives. A preexisting agreement or relationship between a larger company and a smaller development studio or self-publisher doesn’t necessarily precipitate a buyout, or even open the door to discussions on the possibility of one.

While a team like Remedy certainly has less output and lower valuation than Square, I view it similarly because of its standing as publicly-traded plus a history with manufacturers other than Sony. Then there’s the case of Kojima Productions. Game design legend Hideo Kojima had an infamous falling out with Konami a few years back, which led to him founding a private studio. When a company is used to being independent, or recently has become so, and it’s not facing financial instability, its asking price goes up plus the attractiveness of being owned by a parent company plummets.

4. Finally, hardware R&D will be the focus of Sony’s gaming budget.

While Sony’s gaming division now leads the overall firm in both sales and operating income, it’s just one of many considerations when budgets are drawn up. All signs point to it being the final year of the PlayStation 4’s life cycle. In the lead-up to a new generation, research and development costs naturally ramp up especially for a console targeting the “core” demographic of gamers, as illustrated above from executive comments. Design and construction aren’t cheap. Not to mention the massive marketing push that will take the better part of next year.

If Sony intends to put out a powerful console in late 2020 with a quality launch lineup, we’re talking a sizeable chunk of its budget dedicated to this endeavor. How much is leftover to use on merger activity? What’s the most effective way for it to balance hardware and software demands? My thought is that most of its budget must be allocated to its next PlayStation and a core offering of exclusive games, which leaves less for M&A prospects at the risk of being spread thin.

To wrap up this admittedly lengthy post, while I’d never entirely rule out the possibility of acquisitions, I think the contingent calling for Sony to dole out cash on multiple studios has unrealistic expectations. Namely because of where the firm is at in the console cycle. It already has so many talented studios in which it should invest to spur growth, then continue to reinforce its relationships with third parties. This is the ideal route to meet its goal of strengthening its software portfolio, plus has added benefits for external companies that have fought hard for self-sufficiency over the years.

It’s flashy to talk about studio acquisitions, almost casually tossing around names. And it’s certainly more boring to hope that a company stays consistent with its current strategy even when it’s doing quite well. In this case, I’m both hoping and betting that Sony keeps it boring like Proposition Joe said (The Wire hear me). Because its business ain’t broke, literally and figuratively, so it doesn’t need fixing.

Sources: Bloomberg, GamesPress, Gematsu, Kazuhiro Nog/AFP/Getty Images, NVIDIA, PushSquare, Road to VR, Sony Corp, Wall Street Journal.

-Dom

Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night is a Good Game That Couldn’t Capture the Magic of its Predecessors

While Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night isn’t ashamed to wear its inspiration on its sleeve and execute on the checklist of its “vania” genre, it doesn’t elevate above the shadow of its predecessors. The result is a solid 2D action game from the ArtPlay team, with punchy combat, map exploration, upgrades and unlocks plus a myriad of items to collect, that operates within the confines of its tropes rather than pushing beyond to become something magical.

I’ll start by addressing the genre. There are way too many derivations ending with “vania” in video games. Metroidvania is the original of course, a popular term used for borrowed elements from classic franchises Metroid and Castlevania. Even though it’s tired nomenclature, “Igavania” is one particular description that does carry weight. Named for the distinct personality of Japanese developer Koji Igarashi, famed Castlevania producer, who conceived Bloodstained: ROTN after leaving Konami around five years ago. This final version is the byproduct of a lengthy Kickstarter crowd-funding effort that began all the way back in 2015.

With that out of the way, the game is the definition of solid though not revolutionary. Its core elements are consistent, namely combat, upgrades and map traversal, though there’s too many frustrations and roadblocks hampering it from excellence.

Story setup is typical. A group of alchemists summoned demons through a dangerous ritual, in hopes of maintaining their influence amidst the 19th century Industrial Revolution. (Smart plan.) The main character is Miriam, a “Shardbinder” who the alchemists experimented on as an orphan. Due to those tests, she can absorb crystals which (you guessed it) provide powerful abilities. Her counterpart Gebel feels animosity towards the alchemists for being used in their experiments, so he sets out for revenge by raising an evil castle full of demons. Along the way Miriam slays said baddies plus meets survivors integral to the narrative like an older alchemist, an apprentice, an exorcist and an Eastern demon hunter. The usual crowd.

The result is a solid 2D action game from the ArtPlay team, with punchy combat, map exploration, upgrades and unlocks plus a myriad of items to collect, that operates within the confines of its tropes rather than pushing beyond to become something magical.

Thus the singular goal throughout is to confront Gebel. There are side “quests” given by survivors, though calling them that is generous at best. There are really only three types: kill enemies, return items and make food. Repeat ad nauseam. I’m fine with their inclusion, it’s just these are falsely represented as anything more than errands. I counted only one true side story, involving a gentlemen trying to find his way back home. Though not nearly trying hard enough. It was comical, showing the potential for way more than the other set of monotonous chores.

Back to the main path, it’s finding Gebel that’s equal parts fun and tedious. Fighting demons is as expected, through a blend of upgradeable weapons and spells. Enemy variety is a highlight, even borderline extravagant. Facing off against massive wolf creatures, flying gargoyles, disembodied animal heads and electric jellyfish among others is novel at first, though becomes increasingly more mundane as slight variations are introduced and status effects take front stage. Sure it provides variety. That doesn’t mean it’s all memorable.

The biggest and baddest bosses are mostly good, albeit traditional, with a couple stand-outs that I won’t mention. Even the more cliched are well-executed, like the now standard doppelganger face-off. Boss encounters elicit the sort of down-to-the-wire moments where the player expends all abilities, healing items and strength. Emerging victorious, especially during the final gauntlet, easily pinpoints one of the game’s most remarkable qualities.

Artwork is striking, colorful in spots. Screen shots don’t do it justice. And the presence of the simple mini-map alongside modern visuals is truly awesome. Though there are some funky visual quirks with water and reflections, which stand out even more when so much of the game looks brilliant.

An impressive aspect is how the team uses camera techniques to shift the two dimensional perspective to show that it’s really built in a 3D space. Each area is distinct, as art design blends with functionality. Like the spiraling ascent of a massive tower or the sandy waterfalls of an underground desert. One area features moving machinery and shifting bookshelves, where ArtPlay does a good job incorporating its world design into environmental puzzles. Smartly revealing hidden areas or surprise enemies in the process.

Later areas especially require trickier platforming. Evolving game spaces in flux, like alternating or moving platforms with flying enemies to dodge. There’s that usual Igavania feel, complete with the frustrations of Medusa-like enemies seeking to turn Miriam into stone, and it’s a welcome change from the more combat heavy first couple acts.

The feel of progression is key in this genre, and Bloodstained: ROTN does it well enough with the major exception being swimming which I’ll detail below. Gaining new techniques such as double-jumps that allow further map exploration is a staple of vanias. In the game’s third act, there’s one that turns the game on its head which I found quite useful. Game length could span a few hours to upwards of more than a dozen, depending on approach. Which is maybe a bit too long for players like me that achieved near 100% map completion. Specifically because of pacing issues I’ll get into soon.

Boss encounters elicit the sort of down-to-the-wire moments where the player expends all abilities, healing items and strength. Emerging victorious, especially during the final gauntlet, easily pinpoints one of the game’s most remarkable qualities.

You’re probably thinking: All of this sounds pretty cool. And you’re right. There’s still a lot I haven’t mentioned yet, and it’s not nearly as positive.

First, it had a game-breaking bug at launch that still can plague players if not updated to the most recent patch. Absolutely make sure to be on the current version, especially Switch owners that will be playing it this upcoming week.

I also haven’t mentioned how Bloodstained: ROTN has crafting, cooking and transmuting systems in its sort of hub village. That’s because these are only somewhat useful when the real treat is finding stuff through enemies and chests. It is convenient in cases like health and status effect potions. Though these features are under-developed and the menus are convoluted. The cooking menu in particular is.. half-baked.

Let’s talk meat and potatoes. (Yup.) Item drops, namely weapons and gear. Part of what makes something like Castlevania: Symphony of the Night or more recent titles La Mulana 2 or Dead Cells special is that each drop feels meaningful. See an item pop-up, instantly access the menu and equip it to boost stats ever so slightly yet always importantly. With Bloodstained: ROTN, there’s just too much loot for a lot of it to matter. And so many duplicates! I spent the first half of the game using an accessory that I got from a lowly enemy in the tutorial segment, and made a God-tier weapon within an hour that I used until the game forced me to switch it due to narrative reasons.

Plus, except on the highest difficulty, I don’t see the need for a “build” which renders much of the more specific gear or abilities an afterthought. I tend to go for balanced builds, which worked perfectly. Combine balanced stats with an overpowered weapon, and encounters became more and more trivial. I can count on one hand the amount of items I used in each slot. Experimentation wasn’t rewarded, because I always felt like my prior setup was superior.

It pains me to say in all seriousness that this game has legitimately one of the worst water areas I’ve ever played. This is not hyperbole. It’s up there with Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles for the NES. Not only are the controls absolutely miserable, it can’t even be accessed without a random ability drop from an inconspicuous enemy! We’re not talking an optional area here. This is required to finish the main story. It’s the only time I had to look up a guide to see what the heck I had to do, which was wait until one enemy dropped its corresponding shard ability.

This leads me to my final criticism: When a vania doesn’t have good signposting, as in an effective indication of where to go next, it risks feeling aimless and frustrating. Bloodstained: ROTN is one such game, which ultimately results in uneven pacing. Luckily there are times when it rewards wandering, though doesn’t offer more than a vague reference from a non-playable character on where to go next. Combining a lack of signposting with the requirement of a random ability to drop in order to progress in the main campaign mission is not good design, in my opinion.

After touching on both sides of my experience, I want to acknowledge that I had a good enough time playing it. However while exhilarating in spots, especially its boss fights, Bloodstained: ROTN isn’t a successor to Castlevania: SOTN or even worthy of comparisons to modern marvels like Team Cherry’s Hollow Knight or DrinkBox Studio’s Guacamelee! series. It’s more of a nod to its genre that adheres to its boundaries rather than innovating too much, which is disappointing considering its pedigree. I’m content that I tried it, though am left wanting it to be polished, improved and made much more memorable than it was.

Title: Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night

Release Date: June 18, 2019 (PC, PS4 & XB1), June 25, 2019 (Nintendo Switch)

Developer: ArtPlay

Publisher: 505 Games

Platforms: PC (GoG & Steam), PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch

Recommendation: If you are craving a game in the genre and haven’t already, I’d recommend playing the timeless Castlevania: SOTN which has a version available on Xbox One via backwards compatibility. (In fact, what are you doing? You should be playing that instead of reading this.) If you have, I still mentioned other games above that I’d suggest playing instead. If you do opt to try this one, you’ll probably feel nostalgic in the first few hours then will be somewhat underwhelmed when that feeling wears off. If you can tolerate the issues I cited, enjoy!

Sources: 505 Games, GamesPress, Mana Ikeda (Character Art Image), Xbox One X Screenshots.

-Dom

New U.S. Video Game Sales Last Month Were Slowest May in Over Two Decades

Back again with the sales talk! I’ll do my best to make this piece as riveting as possible, though as expected May was a bit of a snoozer when it comes to the market here in the States. It’s a mid-year month in the year before a new console generation. So it’s more like game stales, amirite.

Okay. Moving on.

The NPD Group produced its latest monthly report this past Tuesday, with the standout statistic being that sales of new video game releases were at their lowest level for a May month since 1998. Mainly because there just weren’t a lot of notable major software releases. Which checks out, because it’s probably the quietest month we’ll see all year. What I’m really saying is, not a lot of publishers abide by the “It’s gonna be May” mantra.

In terms of the overall industry, total consumer spending declined 11% to $641 million as sales across all three of its tracked meta segments either declined or remained flat.

Beginning with hardware, the category saw a dip of 20% to $149 million. Nintendo Switch was the main bright spot, as the only console to show year-over-year growth when compared to May 2018. For this year to date, total hardware sales eclipsed $1.1 billion which is 17% lower than this same period last year.

As alluded to above, Nintendo continues its streak of wins. May was the 6th consecutive month in which the Switch hybrid led hardware sales. As measured by both units sold and dollar sales. Switch also remained the highest selling console of the year to date. Reminder that Nintendo announced during its last earnings report that Switch lifetime sales hit 34.74 million globally. Essentially, the company that people counted out during its flubbed Wii U era is now propping up the industry while competitors Microsoft and Sony see their hardware grow long-in-the-tooth.

Talk about the perfect segue.. Switching briefly to peripherals, at least multiplayer games like Fortnite and now Dauntless entice people to keep buying those headsets and controllers. Accessory sales stayed consistent around $230 million, with Sony’s black DualShock 4 controller as the top-selling within this category for May and 2019 so far. Consumer spend on accessories for year to date is now at $1.4 billion, up approximately 3%.

In terms of games, software sales across console, portable and PC platforms dropped 13% in May to $262 million. When talking overall software sales, it’s the lowest May monthly result since 2013. I mentioned the dearth of new game sales already. This is sluggish for even the usual summer drought.

While total software purchasing was soft, I believe there are individual games worth noting before we get to the full charts.

Mortal Kombat 11 is having a.. killer launch season. NetherRealm Studio’s latest fighting game achieved the number one spot on the overall software chart for a second straight month since its launch in late April. It led the monthly Xbox One and PlayStation 4 individual rankings, too.

Not only that, and most importantly, it moved past Kingdom Hearts 3 to become the best-selling game of the year so far. To put MK11’s fantastic momentum in perspective, its 2nd month sales result is almost twice the amount of any other installment in the classic franchise. Part of the reason is how NetherRealm is adapting the series for modern tastes, offering unlockables in the base game then pushing post-launch content. The game’s latest character addition Shang Tsung released mere days ago. I’m anticipating good momentum even as other big releases hit, due to the appeal of new content over time plus establishing itself as a leading platform in the genre.

I’d also like to highlight results for three other titles: Total War: Three Kingdoms, Rage 2 and.. Minecraft. Yup. Mojang’s creation game that released a decade ago, having since attained cultural phenomenon status and sold more units than anything except Tetris, is back in the monthly top ten list. The 9th best-selling overall, to be exact, plus the 7th best-selling game on Xbox One. Honestly, how are there so many people that don’t already own Minecraft?

Sega’s Total War: Three Kingdoms and Bethesda’s Rage 2 were the only new releases achieving top ten status last month, slotting at #3 and #4 respectively. Both of these are impressive accomplishments, considering the past few Total War games didn’t even chart and Rage 2 sales don’t include digital. (Bethesda doesn’t share that portion for its games). In an interesting but ultimately useless tidbit, the original Rage was also the 4th best-selling title in its release month of October 2011. The more you know, ya know.

(Shameless plug: I reviewed Rage 2 here and had a good time with it.)

Finally, PlayStation 4 exclusives like Days Gone and MLB The Show 19 are showing solid legs considering availability on solely one platform. Both games maintain spots in the top ten, plus move up in the year-to-date chart. And the beleaguered multi-platform title Anthem from BioWare is still hanging onto the fourth spot in the 2019 rankings. Both of these are happening in the doldrums of late Spring of course, so keeping an eye over time will tell the full story.

It’s now time to check out the main software rankings for May, which focus on strictly the U.S. market. For individual platform charts and way more information, read this extensive thread from NPD Analyst and, more importantly of course, my buddy Mat Piscatella.

Top-Selling Games of May 2019 (Physical & Digital Sales):

  1. Mortal Kombat 11
  2. Days Gone
  3. Total War: Three Kingdoms
  4. Rage 2*
  5. Grand Theft Auto V
  6. Super Smash Bros. Ultimate*
  7. Red Dead Redemption 2
  8. MLB The Show 19
  9. Minecraft#
  10. NBA 2K19
  11. Mario Kart 8*
  12. Tom Clancy’s The Division 2^
  13. Call of Duty: Black Ops 4^
  14. New Super Mario Bros. U Deluxe*
  15. Marvel’s Spider-Man
  16. The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild*
  17. Tom Clancy’s Rainbow 6: Siege
  18. Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey
  19. Team Sonic Racing
  20. Yoshi’s Crafted World*

Top-Selling Games of 2019 (Year to Date):

  1. Mortal Kombat 11
  2. Kingdom Hearts 3
  3. Tom Clancy’s The Division 2^
  4. Anthem^
  5. Resident Evil 2 Remake
  6. Super Smash Bros. Ultimate*
  7. Red Dead Redemption 2
  8. Days Gone
  9. MLB The Show 19
  10. Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice

^Digital PC Sales Not Included, *Digital Sales Not Included, #Digital Sales on Consoles Included

I think I did pretty well squeezing as much as I could out of a mostly uneventful time frame. How did your predictions hold up? Surprises? Leave a note here or shoot me a message on Twitter. Hope to see you again next month!

Sources: The NPD Group, Bethesda Softworks, Microsoft, Sega, GamesPress.

-Dom

The Themes & Sounds of Funomena’s Luna Had Me Over the Moon

With its themes of togetherness, creation and rejuvenation commingled with brilliant sound design, Luna is a quick, impactful indie game that transitioned well to console play from its virtual reality roots.

(Plus, and I know you noticed, it gives me a great opportunity to use an amazing pun that I couldn’t if I didn’t enjoy it!)

Funomena, a team of 30 folks based in San Francisco led by noted indie talent Robin Hunicke, originally released the esoteric, interactive story Luna in 2017 on virtual reality and PC platforms. Today marks its PlayStation 4 and PlayStation VR debut, and it’s certainly worth trying. Likely via either medium, though this review is of the PS4 version.

It’s a game that’s relaxing without descending into boredom. Slight overtones of loneliness, albeit not dark, that transition into hopefulness. More an experience than a traditional video game. Which seems to be the exact intention. If someone is arguing whether games are art, Luna attempts to prove that no one should even be questioning it.

The tale centers on Bird, a little feathered friend that boasts a mighty song, trying to recover bits of the Moon by uplifting other critters. The other main character is Owl, ever foreboding and mysterious. Funomena’s presentation here is like a virtual picture book, with hand-crafted art and a soothing vocal narrator. The simple yet effective story is told through its environments and player interactions, with bits of narration interspersed that act more as guidance than exposition.

Luna packs a decent variety into its two to three hour playtime, as there are a handful of main “phases” that form its framework. Two of them revolve around light puzzle elements. One that’s semi-rhythmic in nature, as Bird sings to open nuts growing on a tree, while the other has the player forming constellations of different shapes or animals.

It’s necessary to complete these puzzles in order to open each of its level. What I like about the puzzles is they aren’t stagnant. They evolve each time, presenting slightly different challenges. One introduces a rotation element, the next takes away certain visual clues. It’s never too hard, and I appreciate the feeling of progression.

Speaking of its levels, they are mini-worlds each with a distinct animal inhabitant. And these are the true highlight of the game. Each of these spaces is effectively a dreary spot in need of enlightening, both literally and figuratively. Bird is fly enough to help! This is where player choice comes in, though there isn’t a strict set of goals or guidelines. It’s really a sort of free-flowing activity, which offers the player a chance to “cultivate” the scene with different plants, trees or flowers.

The player has to coax out each animal by planting those objects throughout this defined play space. Brighten it all up. Change the size. Sprinkle in color. As the player places trees or bushes, life awakens. Even though it’s simplistic and guided by context clues, it’s still satisfying. Plus, this allows for a level of creative expression. It’s especially fun to see one’s handiwork come to life in the background of the cut scene that ends each segment.

More an experience than a traditional video game. Which seems to be the exact intention. If someone is arguing whether games are art, Luna attempts to prove that no one should even be questioning it.

It’s almost a cliche these days to compare something to thatgamecompany’s Journey, though it’s natural here based on the team’s background of working on the 2012 independent classic. Luna dabbles in similar themes, as Bird tries to communicate using bits of song, though I’d actually align it more with recent titles like Fe and Gris from Zoink Games and Nomada Studio, respectively. Both of which I quite enjoyed, though this here is a much more swift adventure.

Sound plays a major role, especially in the puzzle areas. Since the player interacts with the game using a type of cursor controlled by the joystick, interacting with many of the game’s visual elements will spark a unique sound. Trying to connect a star chart to form a constellation? Guitar strings twang when the cursor crosses over any connections that already exist. It’s a subtle touch, and I found myself messing around to see how many different notes the team programmed.

Expanding on the game’s auditory direction, part of why it works so well is its free form design combined with a smooth, natural soundtrack from Grammy-nominated composer Austin Wintory (Journey, Abzu). His incorporation of chimes and piano chords amidst sounds of flowing water or ambient tones were great on console, and I’d imagine even better when immersed in VR.

The simple yet effective story is told through its environments and player interactions, with bits of narration interspersed that act more as guidance than exposition.

As much as I enjoyed Luna, I have to admit there were small moments of frustration. I think it’s equal parts the game’s fault and my own. Within the first space, as I was planting trees and changing their colors to my heart’s desire, I started to question how I was going to progress. The world seemed complete, or at least my version of it was, which meant I felt stuck. I rotated the camera, poked and prodded though couldn’t complete the instance. It wasn’t readily apparent that I had to keep adding flora until a visual cue popped up and I could conclude the level.

This is a case where the game’s abstract nature works against it. Especially for me, as I tend to be goal-oriented. Luna nudges in directions, lets the player create rather than enforcing strict guidelines. Which started as a confusion, then became much appreciated after I learned I had to form my own path. Perhaps this is the intent.

The other downside is that it ended way too abruptly! It’s not that I assume a game like this would be grandiose in its finale, it’s that I hoped it would be more interactive. Especially after giving the player tools throughout to express individuality. Just when I expected to create my digital masterpiece, Luna took the reigns and ended its story on its own terms. It’s not my ideal conclusion, though it certainly didn’t ruin the overall experience.

My thoughts on the ending are not too damning really, since the real treat is the time spent in the game’s melodic, inspiring world. The puzzles are never too difficult, and ultimately a means to open levels where the player is way more free to tinker. Nothing is overly complex, nor does it need to be.

Funomena achieves a status of interactive art with Luna, in multiple respects. It’s a visual story about unification, overcoming feelings of desertion or guilt and a sense that planting seeds can grow fruitful relationships. This all means that, in the time it takes to watch a film, I’d recommend instead taking a quick virtual trip over the Moon.

Title: Luna

Release Date: October 17, 2017 (VR), November 22, 2017 (PC), June 18, 2019 (PS4, PS VR)

Developer: Funomena

Publisher: Funomena

Platforms: Windows Mixed Reality, Oculus Rift, HTC Vive, PlayStation 4, PlayStation VR

Recommendation: If you made it this far, you already know I think it’s worth a shot! Really thinking that virtual reality version might be even better, too.

Sources: Funomena, Screenshots from PlayStation 4 Pro.

Disclaimer: Review code provided by Funomena.

-Dom

Working Casual’s E3 2019 Best in Show Awards: Top 3 Best Moments

My third and final post of post-E3 coverage is going to be a quick hitter. You can find the earlier ones by clicking on this link or that link.

Outside of the games themselves, there are major moments at each year’s show that ripple throughout the next year or more in the industry. I’ve gathered up three such moments slash trends, in my Top 3 Best Moments of E3 2019 awards.

Now is the moment when you read them. Thanks!

Microsoft’s Xbox Project Scarlett Reveal.

For my first best moment, Head of Xbox Phil Spencer formally revealed Microsoft’s next generation of gaming console called Project Scarlett during the Xbox briefing last Sunday. Its introduction was reminiscent of the powerful Xbox One iteration Project Scorpio from last year’s event, namely a short video featuring hardware engineers and designers. These folks rattled off buzzwords such as the box will have a custom AMD processor with GDDR6 memory, a solid state drive, 8K resolution support, 120 frames per second capability and more.

Which is kind of general, plus of course there was no actual showing of the box or mention of price. Not even the final name, as it’s still being decided according later interviews with Spencer. We do have a release window at least plus one launch title: Project Scarlett is targeting Holiday 2020 alongside 343 Industries’ Halo Infinite. It’s a major moment for the Xbox brand and console gaming, though there’s still so many details left for future events including next year’s E3 show.

Gaming Services: Google Stadia, Microsoft’s Project xCloud, Xbox Game Pass Ultimate, Ubisoft’s UPlay Plus and probably more.

We can’t go a couple of weeks these days without another company revealing some sort of modern service for gamers, whether it be streaming or access to a digital catalog. The most significant of these started back on June 6th right before E3 weekend, with Google Stadia Connect. In a prepared video that felt more like a corporate presentation than gaming reveal, VP & GM Phil Harrison of the massive tech giant discussed more on its streaming service such as a November release window for early adopters in certain countries, Google Stadia Pro monthly subscription, a lineup of 31 games on sale at launch and that Destiny 2 would be included as part of the Pro tier.

The other streaming offering featured prominently at E3 was Microsoft’s Project xCloud, one of Google Stadia’s main competitors. A quick mention at the Xbox briefing was followed by hands-on demos for media folks. Details here are more vague, as the remote streaming service is in its earlier testing phases among employees with a more public beta period rumored for this Fall. I’m a vocal skeptic on game streaming due to the physical limitations of reducing input lag and the lack of widespread internet infrastructure in a number of areas even in the States, so both of these projects have a lot to prove in my eyes.

Then there’s the other types of services. Microsoft’s Xbox Game Pass Ultimate, which offers console and PC players a library of older games, first party exclusives plus Xbox Live online service for a friendly $15 per month. Ubisoft also shared UPlay Plus, a PC subscription giving access to the publisher’s suite of games for, again, $15 monthly. This has a firm release date of September 3, 2019. Not to mention there’s probably another one announced at the show that I missed, because these are popping up at a rapid pace. Which one will catch on and which will fizzle? I’m confident in the appeal of Xbox Game Pass, then UPlay Plus will carve out its niche, though streaming is the big question mark even though there’s no denying it’s the talk of the industry lately.

Square Enix E3 Showcase Revival.

Let’s be real. Last year’s Square Enix showcase wasn’t very good. The Japanese publisher redeemed itself this year in what I thought was the best of all the major companies, including Nintendo’s strong Direct offering.

The show began with a remarkable portion on the remake to Final Fantasy VII, a game I awarded one of my best in show. It somehow showed both a trailer and gameplay section without feeling overly bloated or boring. Plus, the March 3, 2020 release date reveal was a pleasant surprise.

Towards the end of its showcase, Square finally showed off the mysterious Marvel’s Avengers project. The game looked solid enough, though wasn’t able to capture a top spot on my awards. Presentation itself was good, though dragged towards the end when talking about future content when we don’t even really know that the game proper is. Surprisingly, we do have an exact release date, May 15, 2010. Earlier than I anticipated.

In between, Square boasted a number of games targeting both local and Western audiences. Some of which are internal, others it’s publishing. Dragon Quest XI Definitive, Dragon Quest Builders 2, Dying Light 2, Final Fantasy VIII remastered, Final Fantasy XIV: Shadowbringers, Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles, Kingdom Hearts 3, Oninaki, Outriders, Romancing Saga 3, Square Enix Collective indie titles, The Last Remnant remastered, Trials of Mana collection to name a few. Not all of these are my types of games, though I’m plenty interested in enough of them plus impressed enough with the showcase’s overall pacing that I’m here to award Square Enix with the title of strongest live show.

Sad to say, that about does it for E3 2019. Next year’s is already announced for June 9th to June 11th, 2020. Let’s do it all again then!

Sources: Companies included here, Entertainment Software Association, GamesPress, CNET.

-Dom

Working Casual’s E3 2019 Best in Show Awards: Top 10 Smaller Games

The prior entry in my E3 2019 Best in Show Awards covered what I called the “bigger” titles featured at this year’s event.

Now, let’s highlight “smaller” ones. As in, those made by smaller teams, built with lower budgets or created by independent studios that don’t fit into the traditional AAA mold. Some of the best stuff might not be featured at the major press briefings. It certainly will be here!

Quick note that my final post is now up, and it’s all about the best moments.

In no particular order, other than alphabetical of course, let’s work through my Top 10 “Smaller” Games of E3 2019.

12 Minutes

Developer: Luis Antonio

Publisher: Annapurna Interactive

Release Date: 2020

I’m always blown away when a game is made predominantly by a single person. The top-down interactive narrative 12 Minutes is such a title, on which creator Luis Antonio has been laboring for years. Its intense trailer starts innocuously enough with two lovers eating dinner. The woman is set to reveal she’s pregnant, when the man says he knows already. It descends into a series of quick cuts that reveal our characters are stuck within a repeating period of time, where the woman’s father is dead and someone is out to get them. Apparently it’s played in 12 minutes increments, hence the name, and it’s totally my type of mystery.

Creature in the Well

Developer: Flight School Studio

Publisher: Flight School Studio

Release Date: Summer 2019

As a known proponent of pinball in video games, Creature in the Well is an easy pick for one of my awards. Made by mostly a duo of two folks from Flight School Studio, which is a broader team of 30 across Texas and Canada, it’s a dungeon-diving, top-down action game where puzzles are achieved using pinball mechanics. Its striking art style plus clever gameplay elements add to its appeal. And the best news is that it’s set for a release sooner than later!

Fall Guys

Developer: Mediatonic Games

Publisher: Devolver Digital

Release Date: 2020

If I had an award for the best trailer of E3, no doubt Fall Guys would be a contender. The colorful, goofy “ultimate knockout” multiplayer title is basically a bizarre gameshow set in a 3D cartoon space. Contestants have to navigate obstacles then fight through the crowd in hopes of being crowned king of the arena. Word is that Mediatonic plans to treat it as a kind of indie live service game, adding events over time. A truly unique take on the somewhat stagnant battle royale genre.

Hollow Knight: Silksong

Developer: Team Cherry

Publisher: Team Cherry

Release Date: TBA

Challenging 2D action game Hollow Knight was a sleeper hit for me last year on Nintendo Switch, though technically out in 2017 on PC. Silksong began as an expansion for the original, and has increased in scope to become a full-blown sequel. The player will control the agile Hornet navigating across a new bug-filled kingdom, facing off against at least 150 brand new enemies and a variety of Team Cherry’s notoriously tricky boss fights. Can’t wait to jump back into the world with its subtlety beautiful art and haunting musical score.

John Wick Hex

Developer: Bithell Games

Publisher: Good Shepard Entertainment & Lionsgate Games

Release Date: TBA

Here’s how good this game looks: I’m not even a fan of the John Wick movies, I’m a novice tactics gamer and I don’t love isometric perspectives. But whew this looks so innovative in the context of what I’d expect from a John Wick game that I had to award it, if not just for its level of creativity. The coolest part is that once the player reaches the end of a level, they can rewind and see how it would look in real-time. Effectively replicating the frantic combat choreography of the film franchise.

Journey to the Savage Planet

Developer: Typhoon Studios

Publisher: 505 Games

Release Date: Early 2020

It’s so difficult for a game to be genuinely funny, as often times they walk a line between flat and cringey. Journey to the Savage Planet is neither of those things, in what looks like a hilarious first-person action-adventure set in a distant world. The player is there to catalog species and see if humans could inhabit the planet. Its creature design stands out immediately. Little round spheres with bulging eyeballs, giant dinosaur looking beasts then long-necked birds that split apart into more squawking birds when damaged. Definitely way into its tone and overall aesthetic.

Ori and the Will of the Wisps

Developer: Moon Studios

Publisher: Xbox Game Studios

Release Date: February 11, 2020

Set to release five years after Ori and the Blind Forest amazed many with its incredible art, masterful music and imaginative gameplay, this sequel is looking just as good and even larger in scope. Its familiar art direction and precision platforming stand out in its latest trailer, as we see examples of how the cute Ori’s suite of abilities improve this time around, though I’m also intrigued to learn about how its story expands on the events of the first. Plus, how about Moon Studios’ design of those massive enemies!

Psychonauts 2

Developer: Double Fine Productions

Publisher: Xbox Game Studios

Release Date: 2020

My next award goes to Double Fine’s long-awaited sequel to cult classic Psychonauts, as the studio revealed its first gameplay trailer. This tease shows off how the quirky 3rd person adventure looks in action, plus its crazy characters and setup that everything exists within someone’s mind. Microsoft announced its acquisition of Double Fine during the former’s press briefing, though folks that don’t own an Xbox shouldn’t fret. It’s still coming to all of the platforms announced during its Fig crowdfunding campaign, including PlayStation 4.

Spiritfarer

Developer: Thunder Lotus Games

Publisher: Thunder Lotus Games

Release Date: 2020

I bet it’s the art style that instantly catches one’s eye when seeing images of this beautiful 2D adventure project. Though what really inspired this award is its premise. Beneath that beautiful design is a game about being a “ferrymaster to the dead,” the titular Spiritfarer, and exploring a game world while chatting with recently deceased spirits before guiding them to the void beyond. It’s meant to be a more upbeat portrayal of mortality, which is super unique within the medium. Not to mention you have a friendly kitty sidekick named Daffodil. (I’m more a dog person, but I ain’t complaining.)

The Sinking City

Developer: Frogwares

Publisher: Bigben Interactive

Release Date: June 27, 2019

There’s plenty of fiction drawn from the work of H.P. Lovecraft, especially when it comes to art direction or enemy design. Frogwares’ latest applies it to a 3rd-person investigative mystery with exploration and light combat elements. Set amidst a whole lot of weird folks living in a New England town being consumed by water and madness, its gameplay looks familiar enough. Searching for clues to solve crimes and even murders. The real intriguing part is the eerie plot and cosmic horror often seen in Lovecraftian settings. Not to mention I’ll be dusting off my investigative skills very soon when it’s out in mere weeks.

Honorable Mention:

Afterparty

Developer: Night School Studio

Publisher: Night School Studio

Release Date: 2019

Main reason for a mention here rather than an actual award is that Night School was present at E3 in a panel, though we didn’t actually see much more from the game in which a pair of friends has to outdrink the devil in order to win their way out of hell. Yes, that’s actually what it is. I really liked the studio’s 2016 title Oxenfree, and this latest project has many of the same trappings including dialogue pop-ups that the player picks. Was really hoping to hear a release date since it’s supposed to be out quite soon.

That concludes this round of awards. The third and final piece will be on the Top 3 Best Moments of E3 2019. Thanks much if you made it this far!

Sources: Companies included here, Entertainment Software Association, GamesPress, CNET.

-Dom

Working Casual’s E3 2019 Best in Show Awards: Top 10 Bigger Games

While I wasn’t one of the 66,100 folks in attendance at this year’s Electronics Entertainment Expo gaming convention last week, I was able to follow along with all the E3 festivities because it’s 2019 and the internet exists. (For better or worse. The whole internet part.)

General hype was subdued after companies like Sony and Activision Blizzard said they wouldn’t be at this year’s showcase, though I won’t let that sentiment impact my enjoyment. So many talented teams are out there showing a number of seemingly awesome games, how could I possibly not be excited?

We heard of some projects ahead of time, due to teases or rumors. Though there were plenty of others that not even the internet leakers could ruin. For real, a new Zelda?!

Now that the company press conferences are over, the show floor is closed and everyone is recovering, I’ve mapped out three posts to celebrate the biggest gaming event of the year. This is the first one. The other two are here and here.

First up is the Top 10 “Bigger” Games of E3 2019! (In alphabetical order. Because rankings are hard.)

Cyberpunk 2077

Developer: CD Projekt Red

Publisher: CD Projekt Red

Release Date: April 16, 2020

Keanu Reeves became the talk of the show with his appearance at the Microsoft press briefing, revealing he’s playing a character named Johnny Silverhand within Cyberpunk’s futuristic open world. The game itself received widespread praise from media, privy to a stunning, lengthy behind-closed-doors demo, namely for its blend of narrative excellence combined with player choice in approaching situations within its dense and dangerous Night City setting. CD Projekt Red is taking home a ton of awards to its homeland of Poland, including one of my coveted Top 10 spots here!

Destiny 2: Shadowkeep

Developer: Bungie

Publisher: Bungie (Finally free!)

Release Date: September 17, 2019

It wouldn’t truly be a post from me if I didn’t at least mention my beloved Destiny 2, especially now that Bungie is fully independent from Activision Blizzard. Not only does the Shadowkeep expansion center on a host of new nightmarish enemies inhabiting the Moon, one of the best locations from 2014’s original, the studio is implementing tons of smart changes in its space shooter in September. These include the introduction of cross-save across multiple platforms, a release on the Google Stadia streaming service and a base game rebrand to a free-to-play offering called Destiny 2: New Light. Eyes up, Guardians!

DOOM Eternal

Developer: id Software

Publisher: Bethesda Softworks

Release Date: November 22, 2019

The next installment in the groundbreaking DOOM franchise ripped and teared its way to being the highlight of Bethesda’s showcase, featuring both a story teaser trailer and a sizeable gameplay demo showing off its classic frenzied combat alongside new movement capabilities plus a myriad of added enemy types. Between this and hearing from E3 attendees how amazing it felt, late autumn 2019 is the one time when I’ll welcome someone telling me to “go to Hell.”

Dying Light 2

Developer: Techland

Publisher: Techland Publishing & Square Enix

Release Date: Spring 2020

Among all the sequels featured at E3, the follow-up to 2015’s surprise gem Dying Light is the one for which I’m most excited. Especially after seeing more from the open world action title, where choices now have drastic impact on the world plus the main character Aiden Caldwell has expanded parkour abilities compared to his predecessor Kyle Crane. I’ve heard overwhelmingly positive reactions from those that witnessed it during the show, further solidifying its spot on my Top 10 award list.

Elden Ring

Developer: From Software

Publisher: Bandai Namco Entertainment

Release Date: TBA

Despite its title and dark fantasy action role-playing premise leaking before E3 began, the reveal of Elden Ring was still a major highlight of Microsoft’s briefing. There’s still so much we don’t know about it, other than it being a collaboration between Hidetaka Miyazaki’s From Software team and A Song of Ice and Fire creator George R.R. Martin. Which, honestly, is enough in itself to land it among my favorite big games from last week.

Final Fantasy VII Remake

Developer: Square Enix

Publisher: Square Enix

Release Date: March 3, 2020

The remake to 1997’s Japanese role-playing epic Final Fantasy VII has been in development for so long that cracking jokes about it became old a while ago. Its tardiness can almost be forgiven now that Square Enix has solidified a March 2020 release date. We saw more from the project’s modernized aesthetic, awesome character models and revamped action-style battle system that maintains elements from the original’s turn-based approach. Want to know how good it looks? I have zero nostalgia for the franchise, and it’s vaulted to being one of my most-anticipated of next year after this showing.

Ghostwire: Tokyo

Developer: Tango Gameworks

Publisher: Bethesda Softworks

Release Date: TBA

I’m not sure which was better: Creative Director Ikumi Nakamura talking about this “spooky” cinematic adventure, helmed by masterful producer Shinji Mikami, or the lonesome trailer that teased just enough for me to be totally intrigued. It’s a brand new game, a rare sight lately, where folks from Japan’s largest city are disappearing and the player will need to navigate paranormal events while interacting with ghosts that could be friend or foe. This was probably the best surprise reveal of the entire week.

Halo Infinite

Developer: 343 Industries

Publisher: Xbox Game Studios

Release Date: Late 2020

Halo is Microsoft’s flagship, which means that the team had to nail its more formal reveal after last year’s vague teaser. And it delivered. The trailer hits in the feels harder than a rocket launcher on Blood Gulch, following a stranded pilot viewing a hologram of his family then stumbling across a suspended-in-space Master Chief. While only cinematic, there are hidden details suggesting where and when this new game takes place (Zeta Halo a couple years after Halo 5 Guardians), plus we learned it’s a launch title for Xbox’s next generation hardware. “We need to fight,” says the Chief. I’m so ready.

The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild Sequel

Developer: Nintendo

Publisher: Nintendo

Release Date: TBA

Sure, it’s cheating to give it an award. Yes, we don’t know its name. Indeed, its trailer was short. No doubt, it has no release window. All of that can’t stop the sequel to my 2nd favorite game of 2017 and an amazing entry in the storied franchise instantly making this list on hype alone. Zelda aficionados have dissected its teaser, speculating that it’s a darker iteration using the same art style of modern masterpiece Breath of the Wild. A la Majora’s Mask to Ocarina of Time. Plus, there’s the renewed speculation that Zelda herself may finally be a playable character based on her prominence in this teaser. Who knows when we’ll hear more. I’m just super pumped it actually exists.

Watch Dogs Legion

Developer: Ubisoft Toronto

Publisher: Ubisoft

Release Date: March 6, 2020

There’s no doubt in my mind that Ubisoft introduced what might be the most ambitious title in the history of gaming with this third Watch Dogs installment. Set in London after Brexit, rather than a singular main character like the first couple of third-person open world hackathons, the player now recruits any civilian to be part of a crew trying to overthrow a regime. Yes, this includes an older woman that used to be an assassin and really knows her way around a spider drone, as shown quite hilariously in its extended gameplay demo. I don’t know how Ubi will pull it off, though I’m confident it will be truly epic if it does.

Honorable Mention:

Deathloop

Developer: Arkane Lyon

Publisher: Bethesda Softworks

Release Date: TBA

Apparently Bethesda had a pretty good showing, receiving two awards on my coveted list in addition to an honorable mention. I’m not quite sure what the actual end result will be, or if it will be single-player or multi-player, however the premise of Deathloop immediately caught my attention. Two skilled assassins stranded on an island while stuck in a seemingly endless loop of hunting down one another. If.. executed properly, Arkane Lyon’s new IP could be one of the more unique hits this generation.

Very much appreciate you swinging by! Up next will be the Top 10 Best “Smaller” Games of E3!

Sources: Companies included here, Entertainment Software Association, GamesPress, CNET.

-Dom

It’s That Time: Boring & Bold E3 2019 Predictions!

It really is a holiday in June, for gamers and tech heads!

The Electronic Entertainment Expo 2019 officially kicks off next Tuesday in Los Angeles, though pre-E3 festivities start well before then as game companies large and small try to dazzle enthusiasts (and, in some cases, investors) with live presentations or pre-recorded digital shows.

Now, it’s super easy to do a recap of what we already know. Especially since this week has seen numerous leaks or early teases, from the likes of Ubisoft with Watch Dogs Legion to the rumored From Software and George R.R. Martin collaboration now called Elden Ring.

It’s also a snoozefest typing up a list of safe predictions. What’s the fun in that? It’s freakin’ E3! No matter how much comes out before the event itself, you and I both know there will always be reveals that no one is expecting.

Which brings me to this post. Across the next week, we’ll be bombarded with information on what’s new in gaming and related technology including consoles, streaming and even virtual reality. I’m going to write one boring and one bold prediction for each of the major company events, then a little something something for E3 proper.

If you need to follow along with the general calendar, the E3 Media Site and IGN’s Wiki Page are good resources. Let’s get this.. show on the road!

Electronic Arts: EA Play, Saturday, June 8th, 9:30 AM PT / 12:30 PM ET.

Boring: EA is scrapping its traditional (and honestly pretty tame) E3-adjacent press conference for a series of live streams starting later today as part of its EA Play fan event in Hollywood. This features previously released titles like Apex Legends, Battlefield V and The Sims 4 in addition to new iterations in its sports franchises. The major headliner is Respawn Entertainment’s Star Wars: Jedi Fallen Order, starting right at the beginning of the live show with a gameplay reveal.

Which brings me to my first boring prediction. EA is going to reveal details about Season 2 of its battle royale game Apex Legends, complete with a new character. We’ll see gameplay from that character today, and a start date right after its recent The Legendary Hunt event concludes on July 2nd.

Bold: Noticeably absent from the schedule is BioWare’s Anthem, the online action game that released in February to mixed reviews. Personally I enjoyed its mechanics, though acknowledged it was certainly rough around the edges. It’s baffling that older games like Battlefield V and The Sims 4 would be here while Anthem isn’t. I know its player count is dwindling plus BioWare hosted a separate stream recently for the game. However this is supposed to be EA’s flagship stream and one of its most recent high profile games is nowhere to be found?

I’m not sure how to read this absence, so let’s naturally go in a completely irrational direction. During today’s set of live streams or at its fan event, we’ll hear at least a bit more of what BioWare is working on next. Which is the next Dragon Age. While there was a quick tease at last year’s Game Awards, there’s been nothing since. If the developer has symbolically moved past Anthem, it has to.. slay any concerns fans have and reassure about its future.

Microsoft: Xbox E3 Briefing, Sunday, June 9th, 1:00 PM PT / 4:00 PM ET.

Boring: This is a huge E3 year for Microsoft. It’s even said as much. Its major competitor isn’t there. It’s building a new generation of consoles. It’s been gobbling up studios in hopes it can bolster its game lineup. It’s expanding on services, from Xbox Game Pass to Project xCloud. I’d argue this is the most important moment for Xbox as a brand, perhaps ever.

A bit dramatic? Absolutely. But also true. In fitting with this theme, even my boring prediction is massive: Microsoft will formally reveal its next generation of Xbox hardware, nicknamed Xbox Scarlett. This being the two rumored models: One more powerful then the other more entry-level. Nothing on price, timing or the boxes themselves. Just a teaser. If these are out in the fall 2020 timing that I’m estimating, we won’t see a blow-out until next year.

Bold: No, I don’t think Microsoft is going to acquire Capcom. Or Konami. Or any major publisher because that’s not going to happen. If anything, perhaps a smaller development team that isn’t publicly-traded.

That’s not going to be my bold prediction, of course. This is: We’re going to learn about not just one, not just two but THREE brand new, next generation titles from Xbox Game Studios. Head of Xbox Phil Spencer already said we’ll see 14 games from its teams. Not satisfied? Let’s say one of them is from one of the newly-acquired developers. Had enough? Lastly, the biggest of those games will be.. finally, a new Fable. Created by, you guessed it, Playground Games.

Bethesda Softworks: Bethesda E3 Showcase, Sunday, June 9th, 5:30 PM PT / 8:30 PM ET.

Boring: Late night on Sunday, when everyone else is dreading work the following day, gamers will be stoked to see what independent publisher and always wildcard Bethesda will bring to the table during its showcase. Safe bets are DOOM Eternal, Wolfenstein Youngblood and more DLC for Rage 2, which I reviewed recently. I predict we’ll see all three of these, plus more from at least one of its mobile offerings.

Bold: With director Todd Howard crushing dreams in saying recently that big-budget projects like Starfield and Elder Scrolls VI will not be making E3 appearances (which sense as there’s no way either of these is coming out this generation), what kind of crazy surprise might we see that’s unrelated to these much-anticipated games?

Well. I could use this space to predict that Bethesda will tease a new Evil Within title from legendary horror designer Shinji Mikami, who we know will be at E3. I could use this to say that Fallout 76 will receive a major update and go F2P at the same time. While both of those can certainly happen, I’m going elsewhere: Bethesda will finally reveal that Arkane Studios has been cooking up something real juicy. Twist! It’s not going to be within the Dishonored or Prey universes. It’s new. And it’s probably going to be awesome.

Ubisoft Entertainment: UbiE3 Press Conference, Monday, June 10th, 1:00 PM PT / 4:00 PM ET.

Boring: If we’re talking about guesses for French publisher Ubisoft, shoot almost all of them might be considered boring since we likely know its lineup before it even happens Monday afternoon. I mentioned Watch Dogs Legion before. October release Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon Breakpoint will assuredly be prominently featured. We’ve even heard rumblings from my buds Nibel and analyst Daniel Ahmad plus Kotaku’s Jason Schreier of multiple new projects, including co-op shooter Rainbow 6 Quarantine, an RPG codenamed “Orpheus” plus even a roller derby title dubbed Roller Champions. Everyone seems to be getting in on the action!

The snoozer part of my prediction is that we’ll see all of these. Then another Just Dance, which will undoubtedly be revealed alongside a dancing animal of some sort.

Bold: Always animated Ubisoft CEO Yves Guillemot is a staple of these live shows, thankfully so, which means it’s easy to say he’ll be there again. That’s not my guess.

My super bold prediction is that new Nintendo of America President Doug Bowser (yes, Bowser) will make a special appearance together with Guillemot. Because the two gaming powerhouses are going to announce a spanking new collaboration! The easy guess is a Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle 2. This isn’t a place for easy. I’m thinking something new, a different blending of two brands, along the lines of Rayman and Yoshi. Trials and F-Zero. Something innovative. That no one is expecting, except me!

Square Enix: Square Enix Live E3 2019, Monday, June 10th, 6:00 PM PT / 9:00 PM ET.

Boring: Out of all this year’s live shows, I think Square is going to be the most surprising. In the best way possible. The Japanese publisher needs to redeem itself after last year’s average showing. I believe it will.

Easy predictions include headliners Marvel’s Avengers from Crystal Dynamics and the long-awaited Final Fantasy VII Remake from Tetsuya Nomura’s internal team. It’s unlikely we see anything more than a cinematic trailer for the former, though a gameplay demo for the latter is certainly feasible if not likely. I also think there’s a high likelihood we see gameplay from action-adventure Babylon’s Fall from PlatinumGames, plus the official reveal of People Can Fly’s shooter Outriders as it was teased on Twitter a couple days ago.

Lastly, in an interesting twist, Polish studio Techland revealed a week ago that Square will be publishing its upcoming open world zombie game Dying Light 2. Which is curious considering that the original was distributed by Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment. I’m thinking we see a lot from this game here, plus a release window of Q1 2020.

Bold: As impressive as the above is, I’m betting Square will still surprise us and elevate its show to being a standout amid its competitors. Gematsu recently posted about an announcement event for mobile title Dragon Quest Walk, during which produce Yuu Miyake made mention of Dragon Quest XII in vague terms, hinting at some sort of announcement on the storied JRPG franchise despite the game being early in development. Being bold, I say we’ll see a tease along with its subtitle and a logo, similar to how Bethesda revealed the upcoming entry in its Elder Scrolls series!

Nintendo: Nintendo Direct E3 2019, Tuesday, June 11th, 9:00 AM PT / 12:00 PM ET.

Boring: Nintendo is once again slotted in on Tuesday mid-day, technically right before the start of E3 itself, with its Direct and then Treehouse Live stream. We’ve already got a good sense of what it will feature for its Switch hybrid platform, plus some.. inkling of what it could reveal. Pokémon Sword and Shield will be the headliner, after the reveal of its November 15th release date among new pocket monster variations in addition to more about its systems. Super Mario Maker 2 is out this month and Fire Emblem: Three Houses hits July, which means both should have lengthy demo sections.

I’m also betting we see gameplay from The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening remaster, plus a potential release window. Luigi’s Mansion 3 should be shown in some capacity, along with exclusive-to-Switch Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3: The Black Order. Easy ones, done-zo.

Bold: If the aforementioned prediction on a crossover project with Ubisoft isn’t enough, you’ve come to the right place. Minuscule chance of Bayonetta 3 or Metroid Prime 4, though I’m not betting on it. However, what’s up with Animal Crossing for Switch? Nintendo still lists it as a 2019 game in recent reporting, though we know virtually nothing about it. Part of my bold prediction is that we’ll get the full blow-out. Cinematic trailer. Gameplay walk-thru during Treehouse. Plus! A December release date.

But that’s not all. It’s about time.. for Mario Kart 9. That’s right. A new Kart game, exclusive to Switch. Its predecessor is selling so well that this might be my most ridiculous pick of the day, but who cares! I went there. Let’s see if Nintendo does, too.

E3 Show Hours and E3 Coliseum: Los Angeles, Tuesday, June 11, 10:00 AM PT / 1:00 PM ET to Thursday, June 13, 6:00 PM PT / 9:00 PM ET.

Boring: All this said and we haven’t even started the show! On Tuesday, the expo itself opens its doors to exhibitors, press, influencers (ugh) and fans alike. There’s so much that I haven’t even mentioned here that’s a shoe-in to be there. Destiny 2! Cyberpunk 2077! Baldur’s Gate 3! Call of Duty: Modern Warfare! That’s not to mention all the independent developers showing off their sweet upcoming projects, of which there will be at least a handful of standouts. Untitled Goose Game, plz!

I’m thrilled to learn more about these plus see the myriad of panels featured at E3 Coliseum, which is a fantastic mini-event during the broader show. This year’s has so many talented people sitting down to discuss their games, including folks from Bungie, Respawn Entertainment, id Software, Xbox and more. It’s less a prediction and more a guarantee that this will be exceptional.

Bold: Alright. What the heck. I know Take-Two Interactive and 2K Games is focused on marketing Borderlands 3 this year ahead of September drop date, however I’m still forever hoping for a new BioShock game. My final bold prediction is that, somehow someway, we hear a rumor or tidbit about the secret BioShock project. Give me anything at all!

Whew. Being bold is tiring work. Whatever your opinion on E3, however many things leak in advance, I’m always going to be pumped this time of the year.

I’ve sent out a question on Twitter related to this post, asking for one boring and one bold prediction from all of you. I expect big things. Don’t disappoint, and enjoy this year’s gaming spectacle! I know I will.

Sources: Entertainment Software Association, All companies and tweets above, Kotaku, The Verge, PC Gamer.

-Dom